Skip to main content

Full text of "My life with Martin Luther King, Jr"

See other formats


L-riiJ. . 

My life with Martin Luther King, Jr. / 
E185.97.K5_ _K5 10130 


King, Coretta Scott, 


King, Coretta Scott 
135.97 My lif e with Mart 
K 5 Luther King, Jr. 






King, Coretta Scott, 1927- 

My lite with Martin Luther King, Jr. 
(fr^Z ?°£ e w a S? ott Kin P- 1st ed. New 
cl969^ Holtf Rinehar * a «<* Winston, 

. i^' 372 p * » C 16 ] P» o* plates : 111. 

> ^4 en ■ 

Includes index. 
#9257 GifttCole $ . 
ISBN 0-03-081022-1 


King, Martin Luther, Jr.. 1929- 
I. Title 

25 FEB 91 

22611 NEWCxc 69-11805r87 


■ 12 92 

HIGHSMITH # 45220 





(4)5) 626-4212 




















New York Chicago San Francisco 

Copyright © 1969 by Coretta Scott King 

All rights reserved, including the right to 

reproduce this hook or portions thereof in 

any form. 

Published simultaneously in Canada by 

Holt, Rinehart and Winston of Canada, 


Ki Library of Congress Catalog Card 

Number. 69-/1805 

First Edition 

Designer: Robert Reed 

SBN: 01-08 1 022- 1 

Printed in the United States of America 

Grateful acknowledgment 
is made for the following: 

"Mother to Son" by Langston Hughes. 
Copyright 1926 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 
and renewed J 954 by Langston Hughes. Re- 
printed from Selected Poems, by Langston 
Hughes, by permission of the publisher. 

Excerpts from a tribute to Martin Luther 
King, Jr., by Harry Belafonte and Stanley 
Levison. Reprinted from the Encyclopedia 
Year Book by permission of the publishers, 
Grolier, Incorporated, New York. 

Eulogy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 
Atlanta, Georgia, April 9, 1968, by Benja- 
min E. Mays, from Disturbed About Man 
by Benjamin E. Mays. Reprinted by per- 
mission of the publisher, John Knox Press. 

A portion of this book 
has appeared in Life. 

This hook is dedicated to 

whose nohle life of unselfish devotion to love, 

justice, and truth I was privileged to share, 

and from that sharing derived 

immeasurable fulfillment; 

and to 


Yolanda, Martin III, Dexter, and Bernice 

who may live to see the realization of 

The Dream. 



[t would be impossible to list the 
names of all of the persons who have contributed in some way to the 
realization of this manuscript. For in a sense, the hundreds of 
thousands of people who expressed their sympathy and support of my 
husband's work, at the time of his death and since, gave me inspiration 
and sustained me through the completion of this book. 

At the time of my husband's death on April 4, 1968, our family 
received more than one hundred and fifty thousand letters, telegrams, 
cards, flowers, contributions and other expressions of sympathy and 
concern from people all over the world— from the humblest to the most 
renowned. Each expression had its own special meaning. The love 
and the inspiration which were conveyed in this way strengthened 
my determination, deepened my commitment, and renewed my 

But then, there were those persons whom my husband referred to 
as the "ground crew," who worked in the background, but without 
whose help I could not have kept going. This wonderful team which 
comprised my household and office staff was as follows: Mrs. Dorothy 

V I 1 1 


Lockhart, Mrs. Rachel Ward, Mrs. Doris Newman, Mrs. Laura 
Brown, Mr. Tommy Garrett, Mrs. Isobel Cemey, Mrs. Barbara 
Hicks, Mrs. Martha Hall, Mrs. Doris Ford, and Miss Bessie Rogers. 

The King family, Daddv and Mamma King; A.D. and Naomi 
and their five children; and Christine and Isaac Farris have helped 
share many responsibilities, particularly where the children are con- 
cerned. They have been a source of encouragement and understand- 
ing, and have afforded additional material on Martin's childhood 

My own parents, Mr. and Mrs. Obie Scott, and my brother, Obie, 
have been reassuring in their love and support. 

My sister, Edythe, who has been at my side almost constantly since 
last April, has been a confidante, an office assistant, as well as a help 
with the children. Lending her talents and dedication to the Move- 
ment, she has ably substituted for me as a speaker on several occa- 
sions. She has read a portion of the manuscript and offered valuable 
suggestions, particularly on Chapter Two. 

My dear friend and former trumpet teacher, Frances Thomas, 
donated her services as secretary and office assistant for a period of 
about eight months. She is a person of unusual dedication and commit- 
ment. She also typed a portion of the manuscript and read it in its 
entirety, offering excellent suggestions. 

Bernita Bennette gave invaluable help as research assistant with all 
the many facts that had to be gathered. She was near me most of 
the time while I was working on the manuscript, did a considerable 
portion of the typing on the final draft, and is the one person who has 
experienced with me more than anyone else the varying stages of the 
development of this book. She constantly encouraged me as I worked 
toward the completion of the manuscript. 

Andy Young took time from his busy and hectic schedule to read 
the entire manuscript and to offer valuable suggestions, especially 
pertaining to our various campaigns. 

Stanley I cvison has read the entire manuscript and has offered 
manv useful suggestions. Particular thanks go to him and to Harry 
Belafonte for theii tribute to Martin, which is included in the book. 

Acknowledgments i x 

Harry VVachtel has given valuable legal assistance from the book's 
inception, and, of course, with other personal matters. 

Charlotte Mayerson, senior editor at Holt, made a valuable 
editorial contribution. 

I am deeply grateful to all the above persons. 

But most of all, I am grateful to my four children, Yolanda, 
Martin III, Dexter, and Bernice, who share in the dedication of this 
book. I am eternally grateful for their understanding and willingness 
to share their "only parent" in an effort to perpetuate the legacy of 
their father, a noble servant of humanity. 










J he 

.he summer of 1964 had been very 
difficult for my husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. The calls upon 
him were staggering and his life was filled with almost incredible 
pressures. He was away from our home in Atlanta much of the time, 
involved in the struggle for voter registration, in the movement to 
integrate public facilities, in a trip to Germany, in the presidential 
campaign, and in many other difficult and strenuous tasks. 

Because I was concerned about him, in October, soon after he 
returned from Germany, I encouraged my husband to go to St. Jo- 
seph's Hospital in Atlanta for a checkup, hoping that he would in 
that way be able to get a few days' rest. At about nine o'clock on the 
morning after Martin went to the hospital, the telephone rang; it 
rang most of the time in our house. Many of the calls were from people 
with whom Martin worked or who wanted to give support to the 
Movement or who wanted help from him. But many times the tele- 
phone brought threats, abuse, and a stream of obscenity. This time 
when I answered, the voice on the line said, "This is the Associated 
Press. I would like to speak to Dr. Martin Luther King." 

2 My Life with 

I explained that Dr. King was not at home, and the reporter said, 
"Is this Mrs. King?" When I replied that it was, he said, "We have 
just received word from Norway that your husband has been given the 
Nobel Peace Prize for 1964." 

It was too much to fully comprehend, but I tried to act calmly. He 
asked me whether he could get in touch with Dr. King for a statement, 
and I told him I'd contact my husband and have him call back. When 
the reporter asked for my reactions, I explained that it was hard for 
me to tell yet what I really felt. 

Of course, I had read in newspaper stories that Martin was being 
considered for the prize. After that we heard that he was high on 
the list of possible winners; but Martin and I both thought these 
reports were merely rumors, for we thought that the prize was given 
only to those occupied exclusively in international peace activities. 
Though Martin had often written and spoken of nonviolence as the 
salvation of a world in peril, we did not feel others saw the broad 
implications of his philosophy. 

"This year the prize is worth fifty-four thousand dollars," the 
reporter said. "What do you suppose Dr. King will do with all that 

"Knowing him," I answered, "I'm sure he will give it all to the 
Freedom Movement." 

"How do you feel about that?" 

"I think that is where the money should go. I believe in it whole- 

As soon as the reporter hung up, I called Martin at the hospital. 
When he answered in a sleepy voice, I said gaily, "How is the Nobel 
Peace Prize winner for 1964 feeling this morning?" 

"What's that?" Martin asked. 

"Martin, the Associated Press just called to tell us that the .m 
nouncement has been made, and you are the winner." Alter a long 
silence Martin said, "I'd better check to see if this is true." 

Martin told me later that he had fallen asleep after his early- 
morning breakfast at the hospital. When 1 called him with the news, 
he was stunned. He thought he was still dreaming. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 

It took me quite a while to analyze my own reactions. Of course, 
the phone kept ringing, and my first thought was that Martin had 
checked into the hospital only the day before, and this meant that 
he would get absolutely no rest, because there would be all kinds 
of people trying to get to him. It seemed as if every time he got 
to the point where he wanted to get away from things, something 
would happen. 

On the other hand, I realized that this was exactly the sort of lift 
Martin desperately needed, and in that moment I was filled with joy. 
I sat quietly by the telephone and I prayed, "Thank you, Our Father. 
Thank you for what this means to Martin and to the children and to 
me. Thank you and help us to be worthy of this blessing." 

News of the announcement of the prize spread rapidly. Martin 
was visited by Archbishop Hallinan of the Roman Catholic Arch- 
diocese of Atlanta. Bishop Hallinan offered his congratulations and 
then said to Martin, "May I give you my blessing?" Martin said, 
"Of course," and the Archbishop recited a traditional blessing and 
made a sign of the cross. Martin responded, then to his surprise, 
the Archbishop sank to his knees beside the bed and quietly said, "May 
I receive your blessing?" Later Martin told me how humbled he felt and 
how beautiful it was that a Roman Catholic Archbishop would receive 
the blessing of a Baptist preacher named Martin Luther. 

A little later I had a call from the staff at the Southern Christian 
Leadership Conference office to tell me that Martin had set up a press 
conference for eleven o'clock at the hospital and had asked that I 
come over and join him. 

Of course, I went immediately. At the hospital I found all the 
reporters and photographers, with flashbulbs winking, crowded into 
the hospital chapel. Martin had written out a statement, and he an- 
swered their questions easily and calmly, as he always did. Lie told 
them that he would give all the money he was awarded to the Cause, 
as I had known he would. The prize money was later divided among 
Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Congress of Racial 
Equality, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, National As- 
sociation for the Advancement of Colored People, National Council of 

4 My Life with 

Negro Women, and American Foundation on Nonviolence, set up to 
further education in nonviolence. 

Finallv the reporters went away, and Martin and I went up to our 
room where we were left alone to sort out our thoughts and our 

Of course, I was pleased, but at the same time I was pondering. 
Why? Why was Martin's contribution considered of international 
importance? What was the deeper meaning of all this— some meaning 
that we were not yet able to understand? For this was not just a prize 
for civil rights, but for contributing to world peace. Though we were 
very happy, both Martin and I realized the tremendous responsibility 
that this placed on him. This was, of course, the greatest recognition 
that had come to him, but we both knew that to accomplish what the 
prize really implied, we still had a long way to go. It was a great tribute, 
but an even more awesome burden. I felt pride and joy, and pain too, 
when I thought of the added responsibilities my husband must bear; 
and it was my burden too. I think he put it best for both of us when he 
later said, in his acceptance speech, "I feel as though this prize has 
been given to me for something that really has not yet been achieved. 
It is a commission to go out and work even harder for the things in 
which we believe." 

Our solemn thoughts did not mean we were not joyful. Getting 
ready for our trip to Norway was great fun. The first question was 
whom we could take with us. We wanted as many as possible to go, 
because Martin felt that the prize was not for him alone but also for 
those who had worked at his side during our long and dangerous 
struggle. But he said, "I will not use one penny of this money for 
anything but the Cause. It will not be used for transportation or any- 
thing else." 

Some of Martin's minister friends generously contributed funds 
through their churches so that his mother. Alberta Williams King, 
and Iiis father, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr., could go on 
the trip. Martin's father had, by that time, been pastor of Ebenezer 
Baptist Church on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta for thirty-three years. 
I [e is a big man. physically and spirtually. He stands strong and broad 
in his pulpit, afraid of no man. white or black, telling it like it is, 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 5 

preaching the Word to his congregation and giving them his overflow- 
ing love. 

At that time, Martin was his co-pastor at Ebenezer, and the two 
of them were very close. Daddy King, as we all called him, was im- 
mensely proud of his son's winning the Nobel Peace Prize. At the 
same time, he was genuinely humble, for he too was awed by the 
new responsibilities that had fallen on Martin's shoulders. 

Next on our list were the Reverend Ralph D. Abernathy and his 
wife, Juanita. Ralph, who was pastor of the West Hunter Street Baptist 
Church in Atlanta, had been my husband's closest friend and strong 
supporter from the first days of the battle of the buses in Montgomery, 
Alabama, back in 1955. Martin's brother, A. D. (Alfred Daniel) King, 
came, as did Martin's sister, Christine Farris, and Mrs. Nina Miller, 
a close friend of the King family. Many others of our friends and as- 
sociates also made the trip: Andrew Young, Wyatt Tee Walker, 
Bernard Lee, Dorothy Cotton, Lillie Hunter, Septima Clark, 
Harry and Lucy Wachtel, Bayard Rustin, Dora McDonald, who was 
Martin's secretary, and ten or so more. Most of them paid their own 

I wanted to take my two oldest children; Yolanda, whom we call 
Yoki, was almost nine, and Martin Luther King, III, Marty, was seven. 
They both had been through a lot with us— threats and attempted 
bombings and knowing that their father was in danger. And when 
their daddy had been in jail, or when he was called a liar, or a Com- 
munist, or an Uncle Tom, they had learned to hold their heads high 
and believe in him. I thought it would be good for them to see their 
father receive the world's highest humanitarian award, but the Nobel 
Committee advised us against bringing children younger than twelve 
years old. The children were very disappointed when I told them 
they could not go though they understood the reasons. 

Early in December our party of about thirty people left Atlanta 
for New York on two separate flights— for the protection of the children, 
except in unusual circumstances, Martin and I never flew together. 
In New York several special activities had been planned for us by 
Ralph Bunchc and the President of the U.N. General Assembly. We 

6 My Life with 

met representatives from Norway and Sweden, from England, and 
from some of the African countries. We began to feel that our trip 
abroad had already started. 

My husband took off for London first, most of the men traveling 
with him. The women followed the next day, and how pleased we 
were to have Daddy King flying with us. We were all together again in 
London, where Martin had several speaking engagements. 

On Sunday he preached a sermon in St. Paul's Cathedral. Except 
for the Nobel ceremony itself, this was the high moment of the trip. 
The great seventeenth-century Anglican church was filled with people 
who had come to hear Martin. 

We were tremendously moved, not only by Martin's sermon but 
also by the Anglican ritual, which we had never seen— the priests in 
their vestments, the stately ceremony of the service, and the beautiful 
singing by the choir of men and bovs whose clear soprano voices were 
so pure. Martin found it a beautiful and inspiring experience. 

After Martin had ascended to the pulpit, he began to preach, his 
clear, rich voice filling the cathedral. His style of preaching grew out 
of the tradition of the southern Baptist ministers, with cadences and 
timing which he had heard from his father and other ministers as 
long as he could remember. But anyone who has ever heard him knows 
that what made Martin's sermons memorable was not the oratorical 
skill with which lie was so abundantly blessed, but the message which 
he brought and which came from his heart, straight to the heart of the 

He preached one of his favorite sermons that day— "Three Di- 
mensions of a Complete Life." It had a special meaning for me, because 
it was the theme of the first sermon I had ever heard him preach on 
a Sunday long ago in a little church at Roxbury, Massachusetts. And 
it was also the initial sermon he preached in the Dexter Avenue Baptist 
Church in Montgomery, Alabama, wliere he began his pastorate. 

But the sermon at St. Paul's Cathedral was not simpl) a repetition. 
As always, Martin took the theme and adapted it to his audience, add- 
ing new insights, changing it in accordance with the times and 
elaborating upon it extemporaneously. The text was From Revelation 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 7 

21:16, "The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal." 
Martin described St. John's vision of "a new and holy Jerusalem 
descending out of heaven from God." This new heavenly city would 
not be an unbalanced entity with towering virtues on one side of it 
and degrading vices on the other. The most noble thing about the 
new city would be its completeness in all three of its dimensions, in its 
length and its breadth and its height. 

The troubles of the world, my husband said, were due to incom- 
pleteness. Greece gave us noble philosophy and poetic insights, but 
her glorious cities were built on a foundation of slavery. Western 
civilization was also great, bequeathing to us glories of art and culture 
as well as the Industrial Revolution that was the beginning of material 
abundance for man. But it was based on injustice and colonialism and 
allowed its material means to outdistance spiritual ends. 

America, he said, is a great nation, offering the world the Decla- 
ration of Independence and enormous technological advances, but it 
too is incomplete because of its materialism and because it has deprived 
twenty-two million Negro men and women of life, liberty, and the 
pursuit of happiness. 

Just as the great cities, nations, and civilizations are incomplete, 
so have been many of our great leaders. The individual, Martin said, 
should strive for completeness within himself. The first dimension of 
a complete life is the development of a person's inner powers. He 
must work tirelessly to achieve excellence in his field of endeavor, no 
matter how humble. "Set yourself earnestly to discover what you are 
made to do and then give yourself passionately to the doing of it. This 
clear onward drive toward self-fulfillment is the length of a man's life." 

The second dimension of a complete life is concern for and iden- 
tification with one's fellow man. "The recognition of the oneness of 
humanity and the need of active brotherly concern for the welfare of 
others is the breadth of man's life." 

There remained the third dimension, the height, man's upward 
reach. Some of us are out-and-out atheists, some are atheists in practice 
while giving lip service to God. Martin believed that a man must 
actively seek God. "Where will you find Him? In a test tube? No! 

8 My Life with 

Where else except in Jesus Christ, the Lord of our lives? . . . Christ 
is the Word made flesh. He is the language of eternity translated in the 
words of time. ... By committing ourselves absolutely to Christ and 
His way, we will participate in that marvelous act of faith that will 
bring us to the true knowledge of God." 

Summing up, Martin said, "Love yourself, if that means healthy 
self-interest. . . . That is the length of life. Love your neighbor as 
yourself; you are commanded to do that. That is the breadth of life. 
But never forget that there is an even greater commandment, 'Love 
the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with 
all thy mind. This is the height of life. . . . 

". . . God grant that we will catch [John's] vision and move with 
unrelenting passion toward that city of complete life in which the 
length and the breadth and the height are equal. Only by reaching this 
city can we achieve our true essence. Only by attaining this complete- 
ness can we be true sons of God." 

As Martin was speaking, that great, sophisticated congregation sat 
silent and intent upon his words. He said later that he could feel the 
current of their overwhelming response flowing toward him, and his 
own emotion rose with theirs. His father sat among them, completely 
carried away. Members of our party teased Daddy King afterward, 
saying that he was muttering under his breath a favorite phrase which 
he would have shouted out in our own Baptist church. He was saying, 
"Make it plain, son, make it plain." 

After the service Canon Collins of St. Paul's took us to his home for 
a brief reception. Then we had time to do a little sightseeing in London 
—the usual things: Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London. We 
drove down Whitehall, with its great government buildings— the Ad- 
miralty and the Foreign Office— which stood like monuments to the 
great empire that had been and was no longer; past the Houses of 
Parliament, with their long, splendid Gothic facade and Big Ben in 
its tower sounding the quarter-hours with the Westminster chimes. 
But the beauty and nobility of London were clouded for Martin by 
the thought, as he said, "that it was built by exploitation of Africans 
and Indians and other oppressed peoples." 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 9 

On December 8, we took off for Oslo. Because it was a short flight 
and we were supposed to be greeted officially this time, we all flew 
together in one plane. So, for once, I had the pleasure of flying with my 
husband, sharing our high anticipation of all that awaited us in Oslo. 
Yet, as we flew north over the gray, stormy sea, f had a feeling of 
moving far away from the center of things toward an area of the 
earth remote to all of us. 

Though we landed fairly early in the afternoon, the sun was 
setting. In that month of the shortest days, there were only about 
four or five hours of sunlight in Oslo. This we had to get used to, 
and also to the intense crisp cold we felt as we stepped from the plane. 

But if the air was chilly, our greeting was warm. Of course, officials 
of the Nobel Committee were there, headed by Dr. Gunnar Jahn. We 
expected them, but not the crowds of people who came to welcome us, 
and especially the hundreds of young people. Martin made a brief 
statement to the press expressing his thanks to the Nobel Committee 
and to the assembled people for the warm welcome we received. 
Children presented us with bouquets of flowers. Then we walked 
slowly along a path cleared for us through the crowd. People were 
smiling and waving at us. We were able to shake hands with a few 
of them and waved back at the rest. What impressed both Martin 
and me was the genuine warmth of the people. It made us feel very 
much at home, and we felt a release, seldom known to us, from tension. 

The first evening we had no engagements. It was the birthday of 
Marian Logan, one of the members of our group, and we gave a 
surprise party for her at the hotel. It turned into a celebration of our 
trip, and of our hopes and expectations. Never before had so many 
of us been gathered together in a simple fellowship. Always there 
were meetings, decisions, emergencies, crises, pressures of various 
kinds. Martin and several of the others had been to jail many times. 
Some had been severely beaten. Churches and homes had been 
bombed. Now we were released from solemnity into joy and gaiety. 
After dinner, Martin, Andy Young, Ralph Abernathy, Wyatt Walker, 
and Bernard Lee formed a quintet and sang freedom songs in bcauti 
lul harmony. This was something they often did to break up the 

10 My Life with 

seriousness of staff conferences and retreats. Then we all sang freedom 
songs and hvmns together, and that night their words rang louder 
than ever before. We sang "Oh Freedom," "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody 
Turn Me Around," "Were You There When They Crucified My 
Lord?" and "Balm in Gilead," which my husband often quoted when 
he needed a lift: 

"Sometimes I feel discouraged 
And think my work's in vain 
But then the Holv Spirit 
Revives my soul again. 

There is a Balm in Gilead 
To make the wounded whole, 
There is a Balm in Gilead 
To heal the sinsick soul." 

This went on into the night. Other people staying at the hotel 
gathered around to watch and listen. I suppose they had never heard 
anything quite like it before. They were very warm and friendly, and 
again we felt the happiness of fellowship and the warmth of oneness. 

Later still, we moved out of the dining room into the lounge, and 
Daddy King began to talk about his emotions. "I want to say something 
to all of you now," he began, "and I want you to listen." He raised his 
finger to focus our attention in the way he does when he speaks From 
the pulpit in Ebenezer Church. "I want to try to tell you how I feel. I 
guess most of you know this, but I just have to say it now anyway." 
He stopped to draw a deep breath and let it out slowly as he does 
when he is gathering his thoughts. "I came from nowhere. My father 
was a sharecropper, and I didn't have the opportunity to get much 
formal training when I was growing up. It wasn't until I left the farm 
and went to Atlanta that I was able to get any real education. 1 was 
a man when I finished college, a grown man with my wile and three 

"I wanted my children to have all the things I had not had. I 
prayed For the I ord t<> lit them do the things I could not do. 1 his 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 1 1 

young man here became a minister, and I wanted him to have the best 
training available, so he was able to get his Ph.D." 

Then Daddy King talked about the struggle over the years and how 
difficult it had been for him and Mamma King to live with the knowl- 
edge that what Martin was doing was so dangerous. He talked of the 
threats they had been subjected to, the two of them. He said, "You 
don't know how it feels when some stranger calls you on the phone 
and tells you that he wants to kill you, or kill your son." 

By now we were all crying, and Daddy King, standing there so 
big and kind, not bitter at all, said, "I have to talk about this, because 
even though I feel so proud tonight about what is happening here in 
Oslo, I also must be humble. I don't want to get puffed up with pride; 
I am not that kind of person. So I have to continue to pray so that the 
Lord will keep me humble. The Devil is busy out there, and we have 
to pray that God will keep my son safe." 

We were crying because we had all come such a long way and be- 
cause Martin was at last receiving the recognition which he had been 

The next afternoon Martin and I were to be received by King 
Olav V of Norway. We found him to be informal and cordial. He had 
studied in America and seemed quite eager to talk with Martin. He 
discussed the race situation in general terms and showed, by his com- 
ments and questions, that he was very well informed about conditions 
in the United States and had warm sympathy for American Negroes. 
He was a man of goodwill. 

The next day, December 10, 1964, Martin received the Nobel 
Prize. We had quite a time getting him ready. He had to wear formal 
dress, striped trousers and a grav tailcoat. While several of us were 
working on the ascot, Martin kept fussing and making funny com- 
ments about having to wear such a ridiculous thing. Finally he said, 
"I vow never to wear one of these things again." 

He never did. 

But I must confess that when he was finally dressed, he looked 

1 2 My Life with 

very handsome— so young and eager and excited, almost like a boy 
going to his first dress-up party. 

The ceremony was held in Aula Hall of Oslo University, a long 
and narrow auditorium, decorated with hundreds and hundreds of 
small white flowers. The stage was low and very deep, with an orches- 
tra filling the back of it and the rostrum in front. The hall held about 
seven hundred people, and it was crowded to capacity. We sat in the 
front row with the Nobel Committee. I kept thinking of the several 
thousand people gathered outside who, because Martin had been 
escorted through a back entrance, did not even catch a glimpse of him. 

Then King Olav came in, with Crown Prince Harald and an aide. 
Everyone stood up, and the orchestra played the Norwegian national 
anthem. The King's party sat in special chairs close behind us, and 
the ceremony began. 

First the orchestra played a selection. Then Dr. Jahn read the 
beautiful citation, which said in part: "Dr. King has succeeded in 
keeping his followers to the principle of nonviolence . . . without Dr. 
King's confirmed effectiveness of this principle, demonstrations and 
marches could easily have been violent and ended with the spilling of 

When the speech was over, Dr. Jahn presented Martin with the 
prize, a gold medal, and the scroll. Then Martin stepped up to the 
rostrum to make his acceptance speech. After paying the preliminary 
courtesies, Martin said: 

"I am mindful that only yesterday in Birmingham, Alabama, our 
children, crying out for brotherhood, were answered with fire hoses, 
snarling dogs, and even death. I am mindful that only yesterday in 
Philadelphia, Mississippi, young people seeking to secure the right 
to vote were brutalized and murdered. 

"Therefore 1 must ask why this prize is awarded to a Movement 
which is beleaguered and committed to unrelenting struggle; to a 
Movement which has not won the very peace and brotherhood which 
is the essence of the Nobel Prize. After contemplation I conclude 
that this award, which 1 receive on behalf of the Movement, is a pro 
found recognition nonviolence is the answer to the crucial po 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 1 3 

litical and racial questions of our time— the need for man to overcome 
oppression without resorting to violence. 

"I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and 
an audacious faith in mankind. I refuse to accept the idea that man 
is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life which surrounds him. 
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the 
starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daylight of peace 
and brotherhood can never become a reality." 

As I sat listening to Martin, I tried to remind myself of Daddy 
King's words about humility. Yet I could not help myself. I was proud 
of Martin and of what he stood for. I was proud that his work, and 
that of his associates, had made better the lives of so many of our 
countrymen. I was proud that black people all over the world had felt 
renewed courage and hope because of this man, my husband. 

"Forgive me, Lord," I prayed silently. "Forgive me if I am filled 
with pride. But that's how I feel. I am so proud of Martin and what 
he has tried to do that I am worse than puffed up. I feel as if I might 
burst. Lord have mercy." 

The thunder of applause as Martin finished startled me from a 

When Martin finished speaking, the orchestra played a selection 
from Gershwin. After that people came crowding up to congratulate 
Martin and say nice things to me. Finally we were back in the quiet 
of our suite. 

There we had a sort of private testimonial to Martin. One of 
our friends said, "Martin, you have said that this prize really belongs 
to all the people in the Civil Rights Movement. Now we want to tell 
you who it belongs to. It really belongs to you, because we would not 
have come so far without your leadership. We want you to know 

We were all very emotional, and each of us felt we must say some- 
thing, and in a very real sense this tribute from his friends meant as 
much to Martin as the lormal ceremony which had preceded it. When 
my turn came, I talked about what my role had been— simply giving 
support to Martin over these years. I explained what a great privilege 

1 4 My Life with 

it had been, what a blessing, to live at the side of a man whose life 
would have so profound an impact on the world. It was the most 
important thing I could have done, and I had wanted to do it. I said, 
"This great experience has given me renewed faith. I will continue to 
give what support I can to my husband, and to the struggle." 

Someone produced champagne and gave a toast to Martin. We 
were all becoming a little overwrought. Daddy King said with a smile, 
"Now I want to give a toast to the person who really is responsible. I 
want to give a toast to God." 

Daddy King is, of course, a teetotaler, and he obviously did not 
understand the meaning of "a toast to God." It was so sweet and funnv 
that we all burst out laughing. The web of emotion was broken, and 
we got back to normal. 

The next day, Martin gave the Nobel Foundation lecture in Aula 
Hall. Then he went to Stockholm for the great reception lor all the 
other Nobel Prize winners, who had received their prizes in Sweden. 

Martin preached that Sunday afternoon in the centuries-old 
cathedral in Stockholm. Daddy and Mamma King and I shared the 
pew with the elderly queen who was unfortunately not feeling well 
that day. Later, Daddy King preached in a small Baptist church, with 
an interpreter at his side who managed to reproduce Daddy King's 
intonations in translation. The people were very warm and responsive. 
They nodded their heads and called out in a Swedish version of the 
responses to the sermons at Ebenezer. At the end of the sermon, e\ erj 
one sang, "We Shall Overcome." 

While we were still in Oslo, Martin and I, with some of the others, 
went to a Baptist seminary, where they asked us to sing for them. We 
again sang, "We Shall Overcome." There were no white people in our 
group, but when we got to the stanza "Black and white together," 
people from the audience got up and stood with us. This was a very 
touching and meaningful experience for us. 

As a matter ol fact, the Norwegian Baptists liked our song so well 
that when we left the seminary they were still singing it. 

While we were in Sweden, Martin and I attended a hall that the 
African students in Stockholm gave to celebrate the independence of 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 1 5 

Kenya. It was a very colorful affair, with many students present, the 
Africans among them wearing their native costumes. 

We and other members of our party were received as special guests, 
and the committee wanted Martin and me to dance the opening selec- 
tion together. We had not danced publicly since our college days in 
Boston. Martin had told me then that, as a Baptist, when he became 
pastor of a church, we would not be able to dance anymore in public 
because it would be distasteful to the older members of the congrega- 
tion. We never had, and Martin was quite reluctant to dance now. 

The student committee begged and begged us, so we finally con- 
sented to waltz. It was great fun to be dancing again with Martin. 

However, the next day our picture was on the front page of the 
Swedish newspaper, and it was featured in jet magazine as the Best 
Photo of the Week. We were relieved that there were no repercussions 
at home. 

Daddy King was not with us that evening, but I do not think 
he would have minded. There was a time when Baptists felt very 
strongly about young people dancing together. But Daddy King has 
grown with the times, and he even told his congregation from the 
pulpit that the young people were going to dance. Pounding his fist 
down on the pulpit, he said, "I know how you feel about this, but 
you're going to have to accept it. It is better to provide a place for them 
to dance here than for them to go somewhere else." 

There have been times at family gatherings in our home when 
the young people danced, and Martin and I joined them. Once we 
even got Mamma King involved. We were playing some fast music, 
and she got out on the floor and did some lively steps. Daddy King 
looked rather surprised, but he said nothing. I heard him talk about it 
only recently. He said, "My wife was a fancy little dancer, but, poor 
child, being the daughter of one Baptist minister and the wife of 
another, she never had much opportunity.'' 

From Stockholm we all went to Paris. By then Martin was com- 
pletely exhausted. All the excitement, the many speeches he had to 
make, the receptions, the press conferences, and, most important, being 
always at the center of things had worn him clown. 1 le wanted to 

1 6 My Life with 

hide away and rest, but his efforts, as usual, were unsuccessful. In 
Mississippi the accused murderers of James Chaney, Andrew Good- 
man, and Michael Schwerner, the three civil-rights workers, had been 
arrested, and reporters swarmed into our hotel wanting a statement. 
Martin needed sleep so badly he had resorted to a sleeping pill and had 
gone to bed; but he had to get up and work on a statement. It was a 
painful reminder that, in spite of the glory of the past few days, so 
much remained to be done. 

The next night Martin had promised to take us all to see the 
wonderful show at the Lido that he and I had seen when we were in 
Paris together on a previous trip. That time, we thought we had 
slipped into the club unseen, but once inside, we met John Wesley 
Dobbs, the father of the opera singer Mattiwilda Dobbs, and a 
neighbor from Atlanta. We all laughed about our meeting place. 

This time, reporters had been following Martin all day long, and 
he knew that they would find him out if he went. My husband was 
always sensitive to the way the public would respond, not out of 
personal pride, but for fear that any of his actions might reflect nega- 
tively upon the Movement. So he stayed in our hotel that night— 
though I went with the others to the Lido. The show was wonderful. 

Our trip home was gay and glorious. The strain was over, the 
tension eased; and, for the moment, we put away our solemn thoughts 
and enjoyed the fireworks. New York gave Martin a hero's welcome. 
Fireboats on the Hudson River jetted streams of water. Mayor Robert 
Wagner received Martin at City Hall and gave him the key to the 
city. Even this gesture of honor had a certain irony for us. Where is 
the key which can unlock the heart of a city like New York, which 
imprisons its minorities in ghettos, which shuts doors to decent educa- 
tional opportunities for children of certain racial and national back- 
grounds, which erects bars to employment, which shackles the human 
spirit day after day, year after year, and decade after decade? 

The next day, representing the state government. Governor and 
Mrs. Nelson Rockefeller entertained Martin and the other members 
of the King family at a luncheon in their New York apartment. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 1 7 

The night before Martin had spoken at a huge rally at an armory in 
Harlem. The people there were proud and enthusiastic. They pre- 
sented us with a beautiful piece of sculpture, a replica of Diirer's 
"Praying Hands," which I keep in an honored place in my living room. 

Martin spoke to the people of Harlem about his experience in 
receiving the Nobel Prize. He said, "For the last several days I have 
been on a mountaintop, and I really wish I could just stay on the 
mountain, but I must go back to the valley. I must go back, because my 
brothers and sisters down in Mississippi and Alabama are sweltering 
under the heat of injustice. There are people starving in the valley, and 
people who don't have jobs, and people who can't vote." 

Martin and I had been invited to the White House in accordance 
with the tradition for Nobel Laureates. Instead, he used the occasion 
to discuss with the President and the Vice President the continuing 
deprivation of voting rights and job opportunities. 

When we arrived at Atlanta airport we were met by a large number 
of people most of whom were Ebenezer members. We were driven 
directly to our church for a reception which had been carefully planned 
for us in Fellowship Hall. It did not have the glamor and the splendor 
of the other receptions Martin had been given, or was to be given, but 
it had the special qualities of sincerity and humility inspired by 
genuine love. These were the home folk who had shared with his 
parents the agonies and joys of his childhood, youth, manhood, and 
maturity. They had watched his development from Auburn Avenue 
where he was born to Boston University where he received his Ph.D. 
at twenty-five, to Montgomery where he began his public career in 
the ministry, seeing the accolades of the world showered upon him. 
Finally they were sharing with him, perhaps as no other group of 
people could, this pinnacle of recognition, the Nobel Peace Prize. 
Martin was for them a true servant of God. I felt glad for those noble 
souls whom God had allowed to see this day. Aside from the prize 
itself, this was for my husband the most meaningful of all testimonials. 

Perhaps the most surprising tribute to Martin in connection with 
the Nobel Prize was the testimonial banquet for him held in Atlanta. 
Aside from the custom of neglecting a prophet in his own country, 

1 8 My Life with 

there was, of course, the problem of race. There was a strange mixture 
of feeling in the white community. Some white people were very 
proud that a hometown man had won this great honor and felt a sense 
of identification with him. Others were still afraid to honor him be- 
cause he was such a controversial figure. 

To make it more complicated, Martin and the SCLC were engaged 
in a controversy with the Scripto Company, which had one of the 
largest factories in Atlanta. The predominantly black workers, several 
of whom were members of Ebenezer, wanted to have a union and to 
improve their working conditions. Martin felt that the workers were 
right, and SCLC supported them. Various ministers marched in the 
picket lines, and Martin also picketed the Scripto plant for several 

As a result, there was considerable controversy in the white com- 
munity as to whether Atlanta should take any official notice of my 
husband's winning the prize. Liberals were strongly for it, as were all 
the white people friendly to us. Atlanta has always prided itself on 
being the most liberal city in the South. As former Mavor William 
Hartsfield expressed it, "Atlanta is a city too busy to hate." Many 
Atlantans felt that the world was watching to see how they would 
treat their most distinguished fellow citizen. They wanted to have a 
tribute in which the whole city, black and white, would respond. For 
this they needed the backing of city leaders and the business com- 

Certain important businessmen were said to be opposed to such a 
ceremony and apparently it took some time to win them around. At 
one point the testimonial committee was having so much difficulty 
that Martin said he did not care whether they had the affair or not. 
Eventually invitations were sent out for a banquet to be held at the 
end of January, 1965, at the Dinkier Plaza Hotel. 

When we arrived at the hotel that night we beheld a beautiful 
sight. The big ballroom was filled with fifteen hundred people, and 
several hundred had to be turned away. There were Negroes and 
whites from all levels. Judges and top-ranking industrialists were 
sitting at the same tables with cooks and porters, all mixed up delib 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 1 9 

erately. The audience was about sixty-five percent white and thirty- 
five percent black. It seemed as though everybody in Atlanta was 
there— completely integrated. Ten years, five years, even one year 
before, such a sight would have been unthinkable in a southern city. 

The testimonial committee had been co-chaired by Rabbi Jacob 
Rothchild of the Temple; Don McEvoy, director of the Conference 
of Christians and Jews; and Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, then president of 
Morehouse College. 

The dais speakers and guests, headed by Mayor Ivan Allen, were 
a beautiful combination reflecting the city's determined efforts to 
make this a real hero's welcome for Atlanta's most distinguished 

My three oldest children were there. Bunny, who was only a baby, 
was of course at home. It was wonderful for the children to see this 
occasion, the first ever like it in the South, and to hear so many nice 
things said about their father. When they were introduced to the 
audience, Yoki, with much poise, stood up and waved to everybody; 
Marty responded with a little bow. Dexter, who was only four, was 
supposed to stand on his chair so that he could be seen, but instead, a 
typical little boy, he slid under his chair. 

At the end of the ceremonies, after all the beautiful tributes had 
been paid, we all joined hands and sang, "We Shall Overcome." It 
was tremendously moving— the spirit of it. We had overcome a major 
barrier for a southern city. We felt, for that night at least, it was 
really "black and white together" in Atlanta. 

Then the most unexpected thing happened. After the singing, 
Mr. James Carmichael, the president of Scripto, came up to Daddy 
King, and said to him, "Reverend King, I know how you feel tonight. 
I am a father myself and I can share your feeling of pride in your son 
at this time. I just could not hold back the tears. Anything this mean- 
ingful should be preserved and I have requested a tape recording of 
this ceremony." 

Of the many tributes Martin received that night, that, I think, 
was the most extraordinary. 




e spoke in Oslo of the long road 
we had come; but no one who has not traveled it could possibly en- 
vision how very long it was. Martin and I both had a heritage deeply 
rooted in southern soil. I had grown up in the rural south while he 
was a product of the urban south, consequently, our backgrounds were 
dissimilar. I was born in a modest house on my grandfather's farm, 
twelve miles out in the country from Marion, Alabama. 

My father, Obadiah Scott, whom everybody calls Obic, built the 
house in 1920, the year he and my mother, Bcrnice McMurry Scott, 
married. It was an unpainted frame structure which had once been 
papered on the inside, but by the time I can remember, the paper was 
fairly worn off. There were two large rooms— a kitchen and a bedroom 
—and a front porch. The bedroom was heated bv an open fireplace. 
There were two double beds, one dresser, and a wardrobe. One of our 
prized possessions was a Victrola which stood on the floor, and we 
had an unusual collection of records. I remember such treasures as 
Clara and Bessie Smith recordings, sermons, also jazz recordings, as 
well as popular songs and hymns. 


The kitchen was of unfinished pine with plain floors. Mother 
cooked on a big wood-burning iron stove, equipped with a food 
warmer and hot water tank which was also a source of heat for the 
kitchen. There was a rough carpenter's kitchen table, and several 
chairs with cane seats. In the back of the room, there was a "safe"— a 
chest similar to a china closet. Though the furniture was simple, it 
was on a very large scale for our small house. It is a family joke that 
Dad has always bought the biggest of everything that he could find. 

We were fortunate to have a well in the backyard which furnished 
water the year round. Many other people had to "tote" water from 
the nearest stream or spring. When the drought season came, some- 
times the springs and even the wells would dry up. I remember my 
cousins climbing up and down the steep hill to their house with 
buckets of water for their large family. As a child, I would watch 
them and feel very grateful for our well. When we wanted to wash, 
water was heated outdoors in a big iron pot over a fire. We had two 
large tin tubs and a rub board with which we washed the clothes. 

My grandfather Jeff Scott was born in 1873. He and my grand- 
mother Cora Scott worked long hours in the field and sold pine tim- 
ber in order to get together enough money to acquire the farm they 
both longed for. The struggle drove Cora Scott to an early grave, but 
by the time I knew my grandfather, he owned three hundred acres of 
land and was an important man in that rural black community. What- 
ever Jeff Scott said, people listened to. Jeff Scott either led or played 
an important role in everything involving the uplift of the people in 
our community. He was the preacher's steward and chairman of the 
board of trustees of our church, the Mount Taber A.M.E. (African 
Methodist Episcopal) Zion Church, and also superintendent of the 
Sunday school. His positions as preacher's steward and president 
of the Rising Star Burial Society required him to travel a great deal to 
church conferences and burial association meetings. All the Negroes 
in Marion called him Mr. Scott. Of course, members of his own family 
called him Uncle Jeff or Cousin Jeff, and almost everyone in Marion 
was related in some way or other. 

My father was one of thirteen children, and when my grand- 

2 2 My Life with 

mother died, at the age of forty, Grandfather married Fannie Bur- 
roughs and had twelve more children. At sixty-eight Grandfather Scott 
was killed in an automobile accident and his death left a real leader- 
ship vacuum in our small community. 

I often wish that I had known my grandmother Cora, especially 
since I carry a part of her name. It was said that she was the real inspi- 
ration behind the success of Jeff Scott. She was a woman of unusual 
strength and drive. When I was growing up, my mother often told 
me that I reminded her of Grandmother Cora. 

Though he was harder to know than Grandfather Scott, I think 
my maternal grandfather, Martin McMurry, was a very interesting 
man. He was part American Indian and was born just before the 
Emancipation Proclamation. Short of stature, with a very sturdy frame, 
he was fair skinned and as he grew older he looked more and more 
like an Indian, with his straight black hair and bold features. 

Grandfather McMurry would be considered semiliterate by mod- 
ern educational standards. He said he went to school "about two davs 
in his life," but he taught himself to read the Bible; and that was all 
he ever read. He never tried to read the newspaper, but he had a 
library of reference books that interpreted passages in the Bible. He 
became such an authority that people would say, "If you want to know 
anything about the Bible or a passage of Scripture, ask Brother Mc- 
Murry." His vocabulary was fantastic. 

I remember him very well, a strong man even in his old age. When 
he was over seventv he would walk the twelve miles to Marion from 


his three-hundrcd-acre farm and back in a day. He was unyielding 
and very strict and believed that children should be seen and not 
heard. When we used to visit him we had to play very quietly if he 
happened to be indoors reading or meditating. 11 we made a noise 
he would come out and threaten to whip us. I le shared the philosophy 
held by many adults at that time that children should be seen and 
not heard. I wish I had talked to him more, but we were atraid ol him. 
Grandfather McMurry was well respected in the black as well as the 
white community, if you can use that word lor the kind ol respect that 
white people had for Negroes at that time. Ol course, they never 
thought ol us as being real people, as equals. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 3 

Both of my grandfathers were leading men in the community. 
But Martin McMurry lived close to the soil, never owned an auto- 
mobile and seldom traveled outside of a fifteen-mile radius. Thus, his 
activities were confined to our immediate community and church. 
On the other hand, Jeff Scott regularly traveled all over the county in 
his automobile, attending and speaking at meetings of the various 
organizations he headed or was affiliated with, as well as in connection 
with being an insurance salesman. He was deeply concerned with the 
religious, civic, business, and political aspects of the life of our 
community. His world reached far into the larger community of the 
overall South and the nation. 

My grandmother McMurry was a very gentle woman, a typical, 
loving, and indulgent grandmother. She was of average height with 
fair skin and curly hair. A good seamstress, she made most of our 
clothes while we were growing up. She loved flowers and had a beauti- 
ful garden on which she spent a lot of time. My mother and she were 
very close— Mother was the baby of the familv and would turn to her 
own mother whenever she needed help. 

My father is also an unusual person, as you had to be to get any- 
where at all in those days if you were black. A born leader, he was a 
good combination of both his parents. I often wonder how he and 
Daddy King ever made it, for all the cards were stacked against them. 

They were both born at the beginning of the century, which, in 
the South, was the very worst period of the repression of the Negro 
since the days of slavery. After the Civil War, when the Negroes were 
made free by the Emancipation Proclamation, and given the vote and 
legal equality by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the 
Constitution, things were better for a while. Black people did vote, 
and they enjoyed a certain amount of freedom. Then the federal occu- 
pation troops were pulled out, and the white southerners began the 
process of eroding Negro rights. They were a little careful at first, but 
in the 1880's and 1890's, with very conservative Republican federal 
governments in office, the local governments really clamped down. It 
was then that several of the southern states put the "grandfather 
clauses" in their constitutions. Under these rulings, no one was eligible 
to vote unless his grandfather had been a voter. Of course, most of our 

2 4 My Lif( 

e with 

grandfathers had been slaves, so that effectively disfranchised almost 
the entire black population. 

Another device to keep blacks from voting was the high poll 
tax. It cost two dollars to vote in Alabama, but if you were, for exam- 
ple, thirty years old the first time you voted, you had to pay all the 
back taxes from the time you were twenty-one— in this case, twenty 
dollars, a large part of the annual income of many people at that time. 
This trick was almost as effective as the grandfather clauses, because 
very few black people could afford to pay that much to vote. In 1940, 
in Marion and the surrounding countryside, where we lived, there 
were about one thousand whites and two thousand Negroes. But even 
as late as 1955 only about a hundred and fifty black people were 
registered to vote. 

That was not the worst of it. After the People vs. Ferguson deci- 
sion of the Supreme Court in 1896, legalizing segregation, or "separate 
but equal facilities," the Jim Crow laws passed bv the white legisla- 
tures went to horrible— and ridiculous— lengths. Thev made it illegal 
for blacks and whites to eat together in public; to sit together in thea- 
ters, buses, or trains; to use the same comfort stations or water foun- 
tains; even to enter public buildings by the same door. It was as 
though the blacks had some contagious disease. 

And yet, we worked in their houses, prepared their food, nursed 
their children, and were intimately associated with them in every 
domestic way. The whole idea was to impress upon the black people 
that we were an inferior race; to reduce us, not to slavery again, but to 
being less than men. Negroes, no matter what their positions or how 
much education they had, were never called "mister" or any other 
title. They were addressed as "boy" or "girl" even if they were old 
and gray. They were supposed to say, "Yes, sir," and "Yes, ma'am"— 
even to teenage whites. It was all deliberately aimed at instilling the 
slave mentality in our people. Unhappily, the whites succeeded all too 
frequently for many years. How sad it made me feel to see some of 
our people who had been so badly treated. When thev spoke to a 
white person, their backbones seemed to crumple, they seemed dimin- 
ished. After we became involved in the Movement, Martin would say 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 5 

to his oppressed brothers and sisters, "We can straighten up our backs 
and walk erect now. We are walking to freedom in dignity." 

During those earlier years, any Negro who stood up like a man 
was considered "uppity." If he went too far, or even if he merely tried 
to assert his legal rights, he was in grave danger of disappearing. The 
authorities never investigated. A black man's life was worthless. Of 
course, in any direct clash or an accusation by a white woman against 
him, the Negro man was almost invariable lynched. One of my great- 
uncles was lynched. A "kindly" white woman came and told his wife 
what had happened. When she went out looking, she found his body 
hanging from a tree. After they had strung him up, the lynch mob 
must have used him for target practice. His body was full of bullet 

The system of slavery and consequent segregation, as practiced in 
the United States, is the most vicious and evil sin against humanity 
anywhere. It created within the white man a false sense of superiority, 
while instilling in the black man a false sense of inferiority. Racism, 
as we define it today, is deeply rooted in these inhuman practices. 

It is a wonder that my own father did not end up in a swamp be- 
cause of his obvious self-respect. His additional and unforgivable crime 
was that he worked too hard and got ahead— ahead of some of the poor 
whites. When he and my mother were married, he had a steady job in 
one of the local sawmills earning three dollars a day. By the time I was 
born, he had saved enough money to buy a truck and was hauling 
logs and timber for the local sawmill operator. He had also learned 
the barber's trade, and in the evenings and on weekends there might 
be a line of men outside our house waiting to have their hair cut. 
Mother would help him by also cutting hair when there were more 
customers than my father could handle. Because of the depression 
he began what was called "truck farming." On our piece of land, we 
raised corn, peas, potatoes, and garden vegetables. We had hogs, cows, 
and chickens. Because Daddy was away working all day, Mother, my 
sister Edythe, and I tended the crops. We started as soon as we were big 
enough to hold a hoe— I was six or seven. My sister Edythe, my brother 
Obie, and I tended the garden and the crops. Mother assisted us when 

2 6 My Life with 

there was a lot to do. My rather hired someone to plow the fields, but 
we planted the corn, hoed it, and gathered it, fed the chickens and hogs, 
and milked the cows. We did not sell the produce, we and the animals 
ate it. Even if we had not needed it, living on a farm without growing 
things was unthinkable. It still is, to my parents, who grow cotton and 
corn to this day. 

Later, when I was about ten, I worked in the cotton fields with 
the hired hands. I hoed and chopped the cotton— that is, thinning out 
the rows so you leave a hoe's width between one stalk and the next. 
In the fall we picked cotton. We hired ourselves out to make money 
to help with our school needs. If you made four or five dollars in the 
course of the season, that was pretty good money in those depression 
days. I remember one special year when I made seven dollars picking 
cotton. I was always very strong, and I made a very good cotton- 
picker. Martin used to tease me about it, years later, saying that was 
why he had married me. He would say, "If you hadn't met me, you'd 
still be down there picking cotton!" 

So we all worked, but Daddy worked harder than almost anyone 
for miles around. While both of my parents shared the feeling that 
we must learn how to work, my father seemed to have a passion for 
keeping busy. He used to chide us about getting up early, saying, 
"When I was growing up at home, we ate breakfast every morning by 
lamp light. If you don't have anything to do, just get up and sit down. 
I won't have lazy people in my house." 

Like most people who had debts, when the depression hit, my 
father suffered badly. He was still paying for his truck and could not 
earn enough to make his payments. A white man, whom we shall 
call John Thomas, took up his payments, but held the mortgage on his 
truck. He was "The Man" of my childhood, a great exploiter of Ne- 
groes. Imagine, in the twentieth century, hundreds of people were 
living on this man's plantation and working for him. He owned the 
general merchandise store where they bought their loud on credit, 
yard goods, and all the other things they needed. Thus, when they got 
paid at the end of a season, most if not all of what they had earned 
they owed to him. He also owned a share in the lumber company 
for which mv father worked. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 7 

Mr. Thomas knew that my rather was a good steady worker, so he 
made the payments on the truck. Then Daddy worked for him, not as 
a sharecropper, but hauling lumber and logs. Mr. Thomas never paid 
him quite what was owed, but my father knew it was useless to com- 
plain. In addition, Thomas sold us gasoline and oil for the truck, food 
staples, and other essentials at high prices. The interest he charged 
on the loans he had made to my father, as well as other indebtedness, 
completely tied Daddy to him. 

My father's paycheck from the lumbermill would be sent to Mr. 
Thomas, who would then deduct what he wanted from it. What he 
wanted was all of it; and because Dad was heavily in debt, this was 
what he got during the worst years of the depression. 

Although he got no money to take home from his regular job, my 
father derived some income from hauling lumber for other people on 
weekends and sometimes during the night. But even this got him 
into trouble with the poor whites. He was the only Negro who owned 
a truck. This brought him into competition with the whites, and 
they resented him. Sometimes they would stop him on a lonely road 
and curse him and threaten to kill him— and there was always a good 
chance they might do it. He was not a big man, only about five feet 
seven, but he had a lot of courage. He never ran away, and I am sure 
that is why he survived. He would stand up to them quietly and re- 
spectfully. My father used to say, "If you look a white man in the eye, 
he can't hurt you." 

Daddy knew it was dangerous. After receiving so many open 
threats, he bought a pistol and carried it in the glove compartment of 
his truck, but I don't think he would have shot anyone. It would have 
been against all his principles. Many times during these years when 
he left home to go into the deep woods to haul lumber, he'd say to 
Mother, "I may not get back." 

I learned very early to live with fear for the people I loved. It was 
good training, for I liave lived that way most of my life. My father, in 
his bravery and his refusal to be beaten down, is very much the same 
kind ol man my husband was. 

1 here was a curious destiny entangling my father and John 
Thomas. One day, about 1937, when my father was driving his truck, 

2 8 My Life with 

he collided with Mr. Thomas' car. I don't know whose fault it was, 
but the car was completely smashed and Mr. Thomas was knocked 
unconscious. Though two of his helpers were slightly wounded, 
Daddy was not hurt at all, but he was terribly worried. If Thomas 
had died, they would have put him in jail for manslaughter, no mat- 
ter what the rights of it, and he would not have had much chance for 
a fair trial. 

But Thomas recovered. He saw to it that my father did not have to 
serve any time. He considered that Obie was one of his hard working 
"good niggers"— he was reliable, didn't drink or steal— and took care 
of him in a condescending, paternalistic way. But my father had to pay 
for the car. Though he had been doing pretty well and was steadily 
paying off his debts, it took my father several years to pay that new 
debt to Thomas. Finally the day came when he went down to make 
the final payment. Mr. Thomas looked over his books and commended 
Obie for working so hard. Then he said, "Let's see. Oh, here's an- 
other hundred dollars you owe me." 

My father knew this was not true; he had kept very careful rec- 
ords. But in order to avoid trouble, he agreed to pay it. This meant 
another two weeks' work before he was out of debt. He came home to 
us one night with forty dollars in his pocket. My little brother, Obie, 
and I were waiting anxiously for him. (Edythe was away at school.) We 
were going to town, to Marion, and it was almost time for the stores 
to close. Mother was lying down. Daddy came in and he said, "Bernice, 
wake up! I can take you to town now and buy you what you want." 

It was a glorious occasion, because while we'd been in debt we 
had to get everything at John Thomas' store. Now we all got into the 
truck, and my father drove us to town. It was a great feeling for us, 
and how much greater it must have been for him to feel that once 
again he was a man who could run his own affairs. Since that time in 
1939, he has run his own business and paid his bills; and, if he needed 
money, he has gone to the bank on his own name and collateral. 

When I was very young and growing up, 1 was protected from 
the extreme hardships of segregation though I was always aware of 
being deprived ol the rights to which 1 was entitled. We lived on that 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 9 

big farm, and up the hill were my Scott cousins and all my half uncles 
and half aunts from Grandfather Scott's second marriage to play with. 
There were also my cousins Willie and Ruth McMurry, who were 
just about our age. It was an all-black community of three generations 
of land ownership. This factor, perhaps more than anything else, 
helped to instill in us racial pride, self-respect, and dignity which in- 
evitably gave us the proper self-image. 

My first experiences of social life were happy too; they centered 
around the Mount Tabor A.M.E. Zion Church. Most of the congre- 
gation were kinfolk, so it was almost a family affair. Churchgoing on 
Sunday was the great occasion of the week. People came from long 
distances, sometimes in farm wagons or walking; very few had cars. 
Everyone put on the best clothes they owned. The men wore suits 
when there was a regular service. The women wore hats. I wore 
braids, and I remember my mother and sister fussing over them on 
Sunday mornings. Little girls in my church seldom wore ribbons, but 
on special occasions, like Easter or Children's Day, when we had new 
clothes, we might have had ribbons to match our dresses. 

When we could not get a ride in my father's truck, we children 
would start walking early to get to church for Sunday school. Mount 
Tabor was about four miles from where we then lived, but we were 
used to walking. Though we ourselves did not, other people often car- 
ried their shoes, so they would not get muddy or dirty from the un- 
paved roads. They also carried a rag to wipe their feet before they put 
their shoes on at the church. Others wore old shoes on the road and 
changed before they got to church. 

Grandfather Scott would open the Sunday school service by 
singing a hymn. We had a prayer in the large group— about thirty-five 
people— then went to our classes, where we were told Bible stories and 
taught the Catechism. Who made you? God. Who is God? God is a 
spirit. Where is God? God is everywhere. What can God do? God 
can do everything. Does God know everything? He knows everj'thing 
that we can think, say, or do. . . . 

Alter Sunday school there was a recess, and the older people began 
to arrive for the church services. To my eyes, when I was a small child, 
it was quite a big church. It was a frame structure with white paint 

3 My Life with 

peeling off because it was painted only once every ten years or so. 
There was an elevated pulpit with a railing around it where members of 
the congregation knelt for communion. The pews were rough, home- 
made wooden benches, though they were varnished. The church was 
heated by a big potbellied stove, and on very cold days people clustered 
around it to keep warm. Kerosene lamps, looking much like the electric 
fixtures which replaced them some years later, hung down from the 
ceiling on long cords. The men and the women usually sat in different 
aisles, with the young people in the middle aisles between them. 
Though I don't remember anyone speaking about it, it was rare for a 
man to sit with his wife. There were even two waiting rooms on each 
side of the foyer for different sexes. 

Mount Tabor Church was a "two-Sunday church." Since it could 
not afford a full time minister, it hired a preacher to come twice a 
month. Two-Sunday churches are still fairly common in the South. 
On the odd Sundays my grandfather Scott conducted the usual 
Sunday school service, with prayers and readings from the Bible, and, 
of course, hymns. During the second service after Sundav school, 
Grandfather McMurry, who had a fine high baritone voice, would 
"line the hymns," as it was called. That is, he would start off alone, 
on perfect pitch, setting the meter, and the choir and the congregation 
would join in. Grandfather Scott would lead a prayer and mavbe call 
on one of the brothers to read the lesson. Then he might give a little 
talk. There would be more hymn singing— "Amazing Grace" and 
"Holy, Holy, Holy," all the Methodist hvmns. Of course, a collection 
would be taken up. 

On the Sundays when the minister preached, there were leaders 
who were supposed to collect from their group members. Twenty-five 
cents a person was the proper amount, but that ran too high for large 
families, and ten cents apiece was quite common. Except for what 
was paid to the bishop and for foreign missions, the monev went to 
pay the pastors— and some people thought they were not worth what 
they got. 

Our church was one of the three leading churches in our district 
which included three counties in the black-belt area. Because Mount 
Tabor was considered a strong church, some of the better ministers 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 1 

were sent to us to preach. In general, though the ministers were 
well-meaning, they were often poorly educated and ill-prepared to 
serve the political and economic needs of their people. However, they 
laid a strong psychological and social foundation for coming genera- 
tions. The churches they built were often the only institutions owned 
by black people. Without them, our modern movements would have 
been much more difficult. 

On the Sundays that the minister came, he would conduct the 
regular A.M.E.Z. service and then preach a sermon. If he were dull, 
some of the congregation went to sleep. Once in a while, one would 
come who preached a rousing sermon. People would become emotional 
and shout "Amen!" or "Yeh!" or "Preach!" Still, the Methodists were 
not as emotional as the Baptists, and our members would make jokes 
about the "carryings-on" of the Baptists. This church atmosphere was 
the cultural haven which gave birth to the present popular concept 
called "soul." Soul music was the music of the black church almost a 
century ago— a mixture of African and American folklore in the con- 
text of the Christian religion. 

Seldom if ever did the preachers of that period deal directly with 
the plight of their people. Occasionally, when some black person had 
been beaten or otherwise badly treated by whites, there would be a 
reference to it from the pulpit. The preachers' role was to keep hope 
alive in nearly hopeless situations. "God loves us all, and people will 
reap what they sow," they would tell us. "So, just keep on praying, 
especially for our less fortunate brothers. The Bible teaches that. So, 
don't worry, someday God will straighten things out." 

They never preached what we would now call "the social gospel," 
neither did they discuss from their pulpits Negro rights or the issues 
of segregation. It was too dangerous. 

This attitude was in some ways true of the men who gathered at 
our house to have their hair cut, or got together at the country store to 
discuss some injustice done to one of their brothers. They would talk 
about how unjustly Negroes were treated, some of them saying what 
they would do if it had happened to them, but there it ended. They 
felt it hopeless to openly protest in those days. That was the way things 
were, though tlicy hoped that things would get better. 

3 2 My Life with 

But to me, as a child, church was a warm and heartening experi- 
ence; with my grandfathers leading the community, and all my family 
there, it was the largest and most important part of my world. 

Even before my sister and I started school, my parents began to 
instill in us a desire for education. We had a few books in the house 
which were read and re-read. Among the ones which I remember, 
Mother used to read stories to us about "Rumpelstiltskin" and the 
"Little Match Girl." We learned "Mary Had a Little Lamb," 
"Humpty-Dumpty," and other nursery rhymes. 

Mother had only a fourth-grade education, which she got going 
to school three months a year, "minding cows" and working in the 
fields the rest of the time. She married when she was sixteen, and 
began to have children. She used to say, "I never was a child; I've 
been a woman all my life." When I first remember her, she must have 
been still in her early twenties. When she did her hair in braids, she 
too looked like an Indian. Unlike my father, who is open-hearted and 
open-handed, my mother is reserved and cautious with strangers, es- 
pecially white people. "You can't trust any of them," she said, though 
she does have white friends now whom she likes. But once she ac- 
cepted you as a friend, she opened her heart. Despite her lack of edu- 
cation, she had a good mind and had a lot of practical wisdom and 
understanding of life. She seemed more resentful of the injustice 
done Negroes than my father, who says that people are bad because 
conditions make them that way. He chooses to think the best about 
people. My parents realized how much they had missed by not going 
through school, and my mother was determined that her children 
would get an education. 

My early schooling was greatly affected by the system of segrega- 
tion. These impressionable years are so important in Living a solid 
foundation. Our elementary school was at Heiberger, a crossroads 
village nearer than Marion, but still about three miles from home. 
Bain or shine, we walked there and back each day, and I remember 
that the buses carrying the white children to their school would rattle 
past us in a cloud of dust or a spatter of mud. I remember resenting 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 3 

Our school was an unpainted frame building with one big room 
in which one hundred or more children were taught in the first through 
sixth grades. Later, it was partitioned into two rooms and painted 
inside and out. There were combination wooden benches and desks 
that had been built by a local carpenter. Sections of the wall were 
painted black, and these served as blackboards. The toilets were out- 
doors, and the room was heated by the usual wood-burning stove. 

We had two Negro teachers, and they were dedicated women. 
They probably had junior college training, though in previous years 
you had only to pass an examination to begin teaching— in black 
schools. Some people who passed had only an eighth-grade education. 
Mrs. Mattie Bennett is one teacher who stands out in my memory as 
especially dedicated. Mrs. Bennett encouraged both Edythe and me, 
because she saw that we were eager to learn. I think she worked a little 
harder with us than with the other children— though perhaps part of 
her gift as a teacher was that she made us feel that way. 

Every so often, the county supervisor, a Negro woman, would come 
around to inspect our school, and we would be on our best behavior to 
impress her. Our teacher was eager to demonstrate the talents of her 
pupils. As song leader, I was always asked to lead songs. Sometimes, I 
sang solos or recited poetry. 

Despite efforts by Negro parents to protect their children from the 
dreadful hurt of segregation and discrimination, sooner or later, all 
Negro children lose their racial innocence. Some incident suddenly 
makes them realize that they are regarded as inferior. White children 
may suddenly refuse to play with them, or they find out that they 
have to sit on the hard wooden seats in the hot, crowded balcony at 
the movies, as we did, instead of in the comfortable orchestra. Then, 
I always smile a little when I hear white people talking nostalgically 
about the corner drugstore. I remember, when I was a very little girl, 
having to go to the side door of the white-owned drugstore with the 
other Negro children to buy an ice cream cone. I would have to wait 
until all the white children were served, and then, no matter what 
flavor I asked for, the man would give me whatever he had too much 
of. Of course, we paid exactly what the white kids paid. 

3 4 My Life with 

Black children realize very early that there are places that they 
cannot go. When that time comes, they go to their mothers and ask, 
"Why?" Every Negro mother says, "You are just as good as anyone 
else. It's just the way things are." With his deep hurt, the child 
realizes that his mother is trying to explain without explaining, and 
that she wouldn't have to tell him that if there weren't some problem. 
And it is hard for a child to believe, when everything is rigged to 
prove it is not so. 

When I went to my own mother with this eternal question of 
black children, she too said, "You are just as good as anyone else." 
And then she said very forcefully, "You get an education and try to be 
somebody. Then you won't have to be kicked around by anybody, 
and you won't have to depend on anyone for your livelihood— not even 
on a man." 

My parents taught us to think of education as the first step on the 
way to freedom. This was particularly true when I was growing up. 
Mother said to me, "You want clothes and other things now, but once 
you have an education, if you still want these things, you can get them. 
The most important thing now is to get an education." 

The time came when I fully realized how very different our school 
was from the white children's school. The facilities were certainly 
separate, but they were extremely unequal. The whites had a fine 
brick building. Though I never set foot in it, I was sure there were 
separate class rooms for each grade, and all sorts of equipment we 
never had. I know there was a library. We had no library and very 
few books. We had to buy our regular textbooks, while the white 
children were given their books free. They went to school nine months 
a year; we went for seven months— in Mother's time, it was only three 
months. Under these conditions, how could the achievements of black 
children be equal to those of white children? 

Yet, going beyond all that, we were, in some respects luckier than 
many ol the supposedly integrated children in the ghetto schools up 
north. In many instances, at least what we were taught was planned 
for us by our own people, by blacks for blacks. Many of our schools 
even had courses in black history. The children ot the northern slums 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 5 

were educated under a mass-produced system designed for the ma- 
jority of white students, which was totally irrelevant to their experi- 
ences and which they could neither identify with nor adapt to; and 
nohody cared whether they did or not. Herein lies the source of 
black student unrest on many white college campuses today. 

By late 1937, things were looking up a little for the Scott family. 
We moved into a bigger house that Daddy rented. It had six rooms. 
At first, we had to share the house with another family, some cousins 
who lived in a separate section but used the same kitchen. That did 
not work very well, and a year and a half later, they moved out. 
Edythe was just coming into the "courting age," and my father 
bought a new set of furniture for the living room of which we were 
very proud. It was the first time we had a living room and the first 
time my sister and I ever had a room of our own. 

But the pattern of segregation was strong enough to come into our 
fine new house. I remember the time my father asked a white man to 
a meal. He was a friend, as well as a business acquaintance. We had 
an argument about whether Daddy should eat with this man. My 
father thought he should not, but Mother said, "Obie, this is your 
own house. He is coming as your guest. You should sit and eat with 
him." Edythe and I strongly supported her. 

"No," my father said. "No, I wouldn't feel right doing it." 

The white man ate alone. 

My elementary school took me through the sixth grade. Then 
Mother arranged for Edythe and me to go to a much better school ten 
miles away in Marion— one that was as good as any school, white or 
black, in the area. Lincoln High School was a semi-private school 
when we went there, but it began as a private school. The American 
Missionary Association started it shortly after the Civil War, when 
there were no schools for Negroes in the South. They sent white mis- 
sionary teachers down to teach the former slave children. By the time 
I went to Lincoln, the faculty was integrated— about half white, half 
black, but of course the students were all black. All the white teachers 
were northerners, except for one southern woman. They were dedi- 
cated people wbo were concerned about us and our development as 

3 6 My Life with 

human beings. Black and white teachers lived together in a spirit of 
brotherhood in the dormitories provided by the school. 

The white people in Marion generally despised our northern 
teachers, whom they called radicals and "nigger lovers." They con- 
sidered the school's integrated housing facilities scandalous, and the 
teachers were fairly isolated in the community. Of course, a few of the 
townspeople made friends with the teachers— there are some good 
people in every situation. 

The faculty at Lincoln was brave and dedicated, and the school 
had a strong tradition of service to humanity which was communicated 
to its students. I feel that the chance to go to such a school made a 
real difference in my life. Looking back now, so many things that 
happened to me when I was much younger seem to have been pre- 
paring me for my life with Martin. Going to the Lincoln School was 
one of the most important of these. 

It was quite a sacrifice for our parents to send Edythe and me, 
and later my brother Obie, to Lincoln. The tuition was four dollars 
and fifty cents a year for each of us, and that was a lot of money for 
them to pay. In addition, we had to board with a Negro family in 
Marion, because it was too far from home to walk. A farmer not only 
lost a helper when he sent his child away to school, he also had to raise 
the money for room and board. But there was no alternative. The near- 
est Negro high school was twenty miles away, and you had to furnish 
your own transportation. On the other hand, the white children in the 
area were bused in to Marion High School. 

My sister was the first child I knew in our immediate community 
to go to high school, though my father had attended Lincoln for one 
year in his own youth. By the time I was a iunior at Lincoln, the 
county agreed to provide some of the funds to transport black rural 
students to school. The parents also contributed. My father converted 
one of his trucks into a bus, and my mother drove the children from 
our area to and from school every day. After that time, I was able to 
live at home. 

Lincoln opened the world to me, especially the world of music. 
Miss Olive J. Williams of Harrisburg, Pennsvlvania, a Howard Uni- 
versity graduate, was our music teacher, and my ideal. She played the 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 7 

piano, sang, and taught music appreciation to all students from seventh 
grade on, and after they reached the tenth grade, she gave private 
instruction in voice. She also gave private piano lessons to those who 
could afford the small fee, and directed our three choruses. So outstand- 
ing were these singing groups that they performed such works as 
"Ballad for Americans" and The Messiah annually. 

We all had to learn to read music, and those who were particularly 
interested could go much further. I learned to play the flutaphone 
and performed on it in school programs. Of course, I sang— I always 
sang. Miss Williams gave me my first formal voice lessons and I 
performed vocal solos, as well as sang solos with the choruses. I learned 
to play the beginning repertoire of all new pianists. Later, on my own, 
I learned to play hymns, gospel songs, and spirituals. When I was 
about fifteen, our church asked me to serve as choir director and 
pianist— we had a piano by that time— and I trained the Junior Choir. 
The voung people of my age were a fine group, and there were some 
very good singers among them. We did special programs, and one of 
them was the origin of the format I used for my Freedom Concerts 
many years later. I would choose a song such as "Does Jesus Care" 
and write a narration to go with it. It would tell about some of the 
problems we as Christians face, and would ask whether anyone cares 
about us. "But Jesus does care. He cares when no one else seems to 
and our hearts are in despair." Then I would lead the singing of the 

At Lincoln High School, I was taught to play the trumpet by 
Frances Thomas who gave me free lessons on her trumpet. 

Frances Thomas, secretary to our principal and wife of the social 
studies and physical education instructor, Cecil Thomas, was to be a 
continuing influence in mv life. She and Cecil were to be of invaluable 
assistance during our struggle in the Civil Rights Movement. Two 
of the songs which make up the Freedom Concert which I later devel- 
oped were composed by Fran. 

During that period my mother, who had played before, began tak- 
ing lessons again on the church piano. I also taught my aunt Zimmie, 
my father's younger sister, to play. She had a very hard life, and music- 
opened a new world to her. After I went away to college, the two of 

3 8 My Life with 

them, Mother and Aunt Zimmie, took over on alternate Sundays as 
our church pianists, positions which both still hold. 

In Marion, I ran into much more racial feeling than 1 had ever 
personally known. When we walked to school, the white teen-agers 
would come down the street all abreast and try to knock us off the 
sidewalk. If we stood our ground, they would call us "dirty niggers" 
and we would call them "white trash." Sometimes it looked like a 
fight, and I was a little frightened, but as a group we had more 
courage, and we stood our ground. It never really came to blows. 

During this period, I also took a job doing housework for a white 
woman in Marion. She expected me to say, "Yes, ma'am," every other 
word and to use the back door. I never did either. I was not submissive 
enough, and I did not last long in her employment. 

My father was having troubles too. By now he owned three trucks, 
but as he prospered, feeling against him among the poor whites grew 
stronger. They harassed him, and sometimes they complained to the 
police that he was a reckless driver. They would do anything to get 
him into trouble. 

On Thanksgiving night in 1942, one of our undertakers, Hampton 
D. Lee, telephoned Edythe and me in Marion to tell us that our house 
had burned down. The authorities did not investigate at all, supposedly 
because we lived outside the town limits. However, really no one 
cared about what happened to black people. We never definitely lound 
out how the fire started, but it was quite suspicious. All our beautiful 
furniture was gone, and we had to go to stay with Grandfather 
McMurry. My mother felt abandoned, especially because her mother 
had died a short time before. She said, "Now, I don't have any place 
to go with Mamma gone." 

Still, my father was not discouraged. He went to work the next 
day as usual, and by spring, had saved enough money to buy a saw- 
mill. The logger who worked in the mill was white, and after my 
father had owned the mill for about two weeks, the logger came to 
him and said he wanted to buy it. My father said, "No, I don't want 
to sell." 

The logger answered, "Well, it won't ever do you no good." 

The next Monday when my lather went to his sawmill in the 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 9 

woods, he found only ashes. Some white people who were friendly 
toward my father felt very sorry for him and suggested that he ask 
for an investigation. But Dad knew it was no use. He went back 
to work, hauling lumber for other people with his truck and turning 
his thoughts toward other human ventures. 

My father is such an amazing person. He never became bitter, 
despite all these incidents, all the humiliations and harassment by the 
whites who wanted to keep him down because they saw their own jobs 
imperiled, and because they did not want any black man to rise above 
"his place." 

Yet, my father would say, "There are some good white folks." 
Many years later people accepted him as a substantial person, and he 
could say, "Nobody hates me. I have paid all my debts. My credit is 
good. That is because of the way I have conducted myself. I haven't 
an enemy in the world." And it is true. I know his example helped 
me not to hate; that, and my own deep belief in Christian principles. 

At Lincoln school, Edythe sang alto in a musical group called the 
Lincoln School Little Chorus, which was well known in Marion for its 
beautiful singing. Frances and Cecil Thomas had just come to teach at 
Lincoln, and they had contacts with various midwestern colleges. 
They arranged for the Little Chorus to make a tour. One of the colleges 
the chorus sang at was Antioch at Yellow Springs, Ohio. And that is 
how Edythe's life and mine were completely changed. 

Two years after this concert tour, Edythe was to graduate from 
Lincoln as valedictorian of her class. At about that time Antioch 
College decided to invite black students to apply for admission and to 
offer scholarship help to a limited number who could qualify. They 
remembered the fine young students who had come from Alabama to 
sing for them two years before, and a letter came to our school principal 
offering a scholarship. Edythe and several other students applied, and 
Edythe was awarded a year's scholarship to Antioch, including tuition, 
room and board. Thus, in the summer of 1943, she was the first 
black student to go to Antioch on a completely integrated basis. 

That it was far away was a main attraction for Edythe. She and 
I both wanted to get out of the South, to go north, because we thought 
we would enjoy a greater degree of freedom there. In our lack of 

4 My Life with 

sophistication, we did not realize that there were special problems 
we would have to face there, too. 

Edythe's letters home were generally favorable. She was very 
excited about Antioch and the overall program there. She wrote a 
lot about the academic freedom and how Antioch stressed giving the 
students free choices and making them assume responsibility for their 
actions. There were no house mothers or rules about what time a 
student had to go to bed. In some exams, certain teachers used the 
honor system. 

Edythe wrote about how wonderfullv warm and friendly the 
white students were. She said, "Oh, you'd just love it here, Coretta." 

I think she omitted the negative things because she did not want 
to discourage me. She felt the good in Antioch outweighed the bad. 
I found out later how difficult it was for her to be the first representative 
of her race at the college. The other students thought she should 
know all the answers about race relations. They talked to her about 
this subject all the time. Later she admitted she got awfully tired of 
discussing the Negro's problems at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There 
were other difficulties that are hard to define. For example, my sister 
is tall and attractive; she has a little of that striking Indian look of 
my mother's family. Some of the young men at Antioch liked to talk 
to her because she was intellectually stimulating. She would have 
lunch with them, and they were attracted to her, but they did not 
have the courage to ask her out formally. In all the time she was at 
Antioch, Edythe dated only one white fellow on two occasions. 

I was not aware of any of these problems, and I could hardly wait 
to get to Antioch. When I was in twelfth grade I applied for and got 
a partial scholarship. It was for four hundred and fifty dollars, and 
my parents had to pay another two hundred dollars in fees, plus my 
transportation, but by then they could manage to scrape the money 

I was tremendously excited. Mv first year at Antioch was made 
easier for me by the fact that Edythe was still there. I had always 
looked up to her. We are very close, and she has been a great influ- 
ence on my life ever since I can remember, but particularly when we 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 4 1 

were together in college. She has a quick, brilliant mind and the 
power to express her thoughts in a dynamic manner. I got into the 
habit, in those days, of letting her speak for me, since I was still shy 
and inexperienced in this new situation. If a question was asked, I 
would wait for Edythe to answer. It was not until my sister had gone 
to take her senior year at Ohio State that I came into my own. 

Despite all Edythe's glowing letters, I did not really know what 
Antioch would be like. When I got there, the first thing I noticed was 
the friendliness of the people I met. You sensed it at once. Everyone 
spoke to everyone else; if you were an Antiochian, they accepted you 
right away and attempted to make you feel at home immediately. 
It was not until later, when I had more experience, that I realized 
that there was, even there, a color bar. People were nice to me and tried 
to be friendly, but I could sense that in the back of their minds was 
the feeling of race superiority bred in them through generations and 
by all the myths about black people they had acquired. It was then 
that I became aware that Antioch students, too, were products of a 
society infested with racism. I must admit, however, that on the whole, 
Antiochians tried hard to overcome their prejudices. 

Often, they would say naive things always beginning with, "Of 
course, you're different, Corrie." But then they'd ask me the kind of 
questions I couldn't help resenting: why were Negroes boisterous? 
immoral? why weren't there more Negro students qualified for An- 

What they couldn't understand was that not everyone wants to be 
a pioneer. There were black students who were qualified and who 
could afford Antioch but who would not want to come because they 
might be isolated or subjected to special treatment. Also, many Negro 
parents hoped that their sons and daughters would find suitable wives 
and husbands at college. That was most unlikely at a school like 
Antioch in the mid-1940's, which had only token integration. 

The student body, though preponderantly white, represented a 
cross section of the country, though it seemed a sizable number were 
Jewish young people from New York. In my class there were three 
black students— myself, another girl, and one young man. Counting 

4 2 My Life with 

the Negroes in Edythe's class, we were six altogether. One of the 
things I did not like was the unspoken expectation that I would date 
the Negro fellow at the proms and social events. That was not what 
I wanted, to be "socially segregated" in this way. Quite deliberately, I 
refused to date him. I guess it was a little self-conscious of me, but 
through all the years we were there, I never dated him because I did 
not want to acknowledge that covert assumption. 

It was not until my junior year that a white student asked me for a 
date. He was Jewish, a good musician, and he had a fine mind. We 
had a great deal in common and we went steady for a year, until he 

I roomed with two white girls— that took quite an adjustment for all 
three of us. There was no animosity, just a matter of getting used to the 
situation, and eventually it worked out very well. 

At first, I had a difficult time with my studies. Although I had 
been valedictorian of my class and had maintained an "A" average in 
my senior year, like most southern students I had such an inadequate 
educational background that even Lincoln had not prepared me 
properly. I had to become what they used to call a "grind." I studied 
very hard and had little or no time at first for outside reading that 
meant so much in the intellectual life of the place, though later, when 
my schedule changed, I read a tremendous amount. In my second 
semester, I enrolled in a remedial reading course. In a sense, I made 
more progress than some of the students who came with more ad- 
vantages, because I had so far to go to catch up. 

Then, an unfortunate thing happened. I was the first Negro to 
major in elementary education. This required that I teach a year in 
the Antioch private elementary school and a year in the Ohio public 
schools. I was becoming more and more interested in music, so I 
taught music the first year at the Antioch school. The second year, I 
was supposed to teach in the public elementary school. I [owever, the 
Yellow Springs School Board was verv reactionary, and the supervisor 
of practice teaching at Antioch would not allow me to push the matter 
when I was turned down. She was the type who openly said, "God 
did not intend the races to mix." The Yellow Springs schools were 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 4 3 

integrated, but the faculty was all white, and she told me that if I 
forced the issue it would imperil the whole Antioch practice-teaching 

I appealed to the president of Antioch. He was quite new to the 
school and was no pioneer in race relations. As a matter of fact, it 
was said that he had a black dog called "Nigger." After I told him 
my story, all he said was, "Well, Corrie, what do you want us to do 
about it?" 

"You might appeal to the school board," I suggested. But, on the 
teaching supervisor's advice, he refused to act. 

So I was given two options. Either I could go to Xenia, Ohio, 
and teach in a segregated Negro school there, or I could teach 
another year at the Antioch school. I said, "I will not go to Xenia 
because I came here from Alabama to be free of segregation." 

I taught in the Antioch school but I was terribly disillusioned and 
upset. I had support from my faculty counselors, Walter Anderson and 
Mrs. Jessie Treichler, who were both very close friends of mine. 
Jessie Treichler was the member of the faculty who was working to 
bring black students to Antioch. My good friend and classmate, Sally 
Plotkin, encouraged me to protest and shared my anger and discourage- 
ment. Other teachers and students sympathized with me, and some of 
them wanted to take specific action. Yet nothing helped. 

Finally, I pulled myself out. I said to myself, "Now, I am going 
to be a Negro the rest of my life, and I have to face these problems. 
So I'm not going to let this one get me down. I'll have to accept a 
compromise now, but I don't accept it as being right. I'm going ahead 
in a more determined way than ever, to do something about this situa- 
tion. I don't want those who come after me to have to experience the 
same fate as I did." 

From that incident on, I was even more motivated than before. 
Antioch had a chapter of the NAACP and a Race Relations Com- 
mittee and a Civil Liberties Committee. I was active on all of them. 
From the first, I had been determined to get ahead, not just for myself, 
but to do something for my people and lor all people. 

I took to my heart the words of Horace Mann, who founded 

4 4 My Life with 

Antioch. In his address to the first graduating class he had said, "Be 
ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity." 

Sometimes I am asked what I think Antioch did for me. It did a 
great deal beyond the fine education I received. For one thing, it 
taught me how to get on in a white community. Even its hypocrisies, 
like the lack of support given me against the Yellow Springs School 
Board, taught me not to expect too much, and to make allowances for, 
without condoning, the inbred things white people have difficulty with. 
It also reinforced my idea that one ought not think too much about 
material things such as clothes. At Antioch, clothes were downgraded. 
If I had gone to another kind of school, even to some Negro colleges, 
I might not have been able to manage financially, since I would have 
had to spend much more money on clothes. 

Every student at Antioch alternates periods of work and study. 
You are required to hold a real job every other semester and to write 
an evaluation of your job experience as a part of the curriculum. I 
worked as a waitress in a dining room, and I took the job as a camp 
counselor at Karamu Camp, which belonged to a settlement house that 
specialized in the arts and music. I also worked for five months at the 
Friendly Inn Settlement House in one of the worst slum areas in 
Cleveland. I worked at several other places, including the science 
library, the music library at Antioch, the Antioch and Yellow Springs 
Day Nurseries, and the Riverside branch of the New York Public 

One of my jobs was to go home and help my father in the general 
store he had opened in 1946. 1 set up a system of bookkeeping for him. 
ordered supplies and waited on customers, and Antioch gave me credit 
for that job, too. In all these jobs, I learned not only techniques but 
also how to work with people and under people. I kept the "job 
evaluation" I wrote after each assignment, and when I read them now, 
I see myself as an eager, vulnerable young girl I have almost forgotten. 

It was at Antioch that 1 seriously began to study music. Walter 
F. Anderson came to Antioch that fall as head of the music department. 
He became one of the most popular professors in the college, and it 
wis he who coached me for my first public concert given in Springfield, 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 4 5 

Ohio, in 1948. The concert was well received, and I did quite a few 
other concerts while I was still a student. 

The total Antioch experience helped me to reaffirm and deepen 
the values which I had already acquired during my childhood and ado- 
lescence, in my parents' home and at Lincoln High School. Though 
they were born "disadvantaged," my parents always aspired for the 
best. My father used to say that he always stood at the head of his class, 
and he encouraged us to do our very best, no matter what the task. 
Especially were we encouraged to excel in our studies. 

The Antioch program, with its emphasis on the total development 
of the individual, helped me to grow in this direction. Striving for 
excellence became an integral part of my personality. Antioch's pi- 
oneering, experimental approach to educational problems reaffirmed 
my belief that individuals as well as society could move toward the 
democratic ideal of brotherhood. 

Its emphasis on service to mankind reinforced the Christian spirit 
of giving and sharing which had been taught to me by my parents, 
particularly my father. The embodiment of this spirit in the dedicated 
lives of our teachers was a further inspiration to us. 

Antioch was a place which offered many opportunities for develop- 
ment. Even as a student, I had the unusual experience of appearing 
on a program with the then world famous baritone Paul Robeson, who 
commended my voice and encouraged me to continue my voice studies. 
By the time I left Antioch, I knew I wanted to develop my voice to 
its fullest potential. This made it imperative that I consider training 
in a conservatory of music. 

What did Antioch do for me? In short, Antioch gave me an 
increased understanding of my own personal worth. I was no longer 
haunted by a feeling of inadequacy just because I was a Negro. I 
enjoyed a new self-assurance that encouraged me in competition with 
all people of all racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, on their terms 
or on mine. Antioch— the total experience of Antioch— was an impor- 
tant clement in preparing me for the role 1 was to play as the wife of 
Martin Luther King, Jr., and for my part in the Movement he led. 




left Antioch in 1951, with the 
feeling that this unique experience had been invaluable preparation 
for whatever career I chose to follow. The knowledge, tools, tech- 
niques, and insights which I had acquired in this intellectually stimu- 
lating climate, served to compensate for the deficiencies in my 
educational background, as well as to broaden and enrich my whole 
life. This was the foundation upon which I felt that 1 could build a 
career in music. Somehow, I had always had a strong desire to de- 
velop all my talents, as well as every aspect of my personalitv, in order 
to make the greatest contribution possible to society. Embodied in 
this attitude was the belief that each individual's life is purposeful 
and that he has a special role to play; that he has a responsibility to 
himself, to his fellowman, and to his Creator to give back to society in 
proportion to his ability and opportunities. 

Two Antioch faculty members for whom I had the greatest respect, 
Walter Anderson and Jessie Treichkr, encouraged me to pursue my 
musical training at a conservatory of music. Part of my dream had 
always been to study and graduate from a conservatory of music. 

Dr. Anderson, at that time Antioch's lone Negro faculty member, 


was one of those exceptional, multi-talented individuals, remarkably 
gifted as a musician. He was at home with Bach, as well as "bop." 
He became my second music idol, after my music teacher at Lincoln 
High School. A graduate of Oberlin Conservatory, he advised me 
to apply to a list of what he considered the five leading music conserva- 
tories in the country. 

In the end, the choice was between Juilliard in New York and the 
New England Conservatory in Boston. I had strong reservations 
about the possibility of adjusting to living conditions in New York. 
My last job experience had been in New York City, and, as a student, 
I found it difficult living there. There is no doubt that New York 
City represents the mecca of culture and achievement in America, 
but as a struggling student, I feared that I might be crushed by the 
impersonal, competitive quality of New York life. I reasoned that 
Boston was culturally as advanced as New York City, but easier to 
adjust to. By the time I had reached these conclusions, I received word 
that the New England Conservatory had accepted me. I decided to 
go there. 

Mrs. Jessie Treichler assisted me in applying to foundations for 
scholarship aid. She wrote at least a dozen letters of recommendation 
to foundations and individuals, applying on my behalf for financial 
assistance to enable me to further my music training. One of the letters 
which Mrs. Treichler wrote was to the Jessie Smith Noyes Founda- 

The foundation replied to me that their grants were already filled 
for the next year, but if a chosen applicant decided not to use the 
grant, it would be given to me. On that uncertain note, I went home 
to Alabama to visit my parents and to get ready for school. Although 
my father could have afforded to send me to the conservatory, I decided 
not to ask him. I had been dependent long enough. I would go to 
Boston whether or not I had a scholarship. 

As I was leaving, my father asked me, "What are you going to do 
if you don't get that scholarship?" 

"I'll get a job," I said. "I'll work and go to school part time until 
I'm able to go full time." 

I left Alabama with my train fare and a little money to cover 

4 8 My Life with 

expenses. In passing through New York on my way to Boston, I called 
home to discover that a letter had been received from the Jessie Smith 
Noyes Foundation that awarded me a grant of six hundred and fifty 
dollars to study at the New England Conservatory of Music. My 
prayers had been answered! 

Meanwhile, Jessie Treichler had written about me to a Mrs. Bartol 
who was a patron of Antioch, living in Boston. She lived in a big old 
house on Beacon Hill. 

When I reached Boston, Mrs. Bartol was very kind to me. She said 
I could live in her house and have breakfast for seven dollars a week. 
Surely that was reasonable, but it was more money than I could afford 
to pay. The grant would just pay my tuition and the fees at the con- 
servatory. I would have to work for the money for my board. Never- 
theless, I decided to enroll full-time at the conservatory. 

My first days in Boston were very difficult. The fifteen dollars I 
had when I arrived was almost gone. Though I did not want to take a 
regular allowance from my parents, my mother had promised to send 
me money from time to time, but the money had not arrived. I was 
almost out of funds, but I was determined to save twenty-five cents 
for my carfare to the conservatory the next day. That was something 
I would not give up. So I bought some graham crackers, peanut 
butter, and fruit, and had that for dinner. 

The following morning I got my breakfast as usual at the Bartol 
residence. After that I became somewhat frightened, and I didn't 
know what I was going to do. Then, like an answer to my problem, I 
got a phone call from Mrs. Bertha Wormley. I had met Mrs. Wormley 
through Anne Tanneyhill of the National Urban League in New 
York City. Thev had been collegematcs and were still friends. 

Now Mrs. Wormley was calling to ask mc how I was and whether 
I needed anything. The mail had already come for the day, with no 
litter from home, and I knew I was in trouble. Still, it was very hard 
for me to bring myself to ask Mrs. Wormley lor money. 1 was too 
proud, and it was verj embarrassing. Finally I realized that there was 
nothing else For me to do. 

Bertha Wormley did nol hesitate one minute. She worked at the 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 4 9 

State House around the corner from where I lived, and she said, "You 
just come on by here on your way to school, and I'll have it ready for 
you." When I assured her that I would pav her back as soon as I 
could, she said, "Oh, we'll let our grandchildren worry about it." 

After I left her to go to school, I sat on the subway and opened the 
envelope she had given me. In it was fifteen dollars. I sat on the train, 
tears streaming down my face, thinking, "There are such good people 
in the world! When you are most discouraged, someone like Mrs. 
Wormley comes along to restore your faith." 

To this day, she has not accepted the fifteen dollars I found in the 
envelope she gave me that morning, but I can never forget the kind- 
ness of one woman who barely knew me, but who wanted to help a 
young girl trying to make something of her life. 

Mrs. Wormley was a special person, yet she shared the spirit of 
many Negroes of that day— and this— who have achieved some degree 
of success and who form a sort of chain to help the younger people 
of their race. Think of how complicated the chain was that led me to 
her— yet how strong. 

After this incident, mv counselor from the conservatory, Mrs. 
Jean Demos, and I had a talk with Mrs. Bartol to see if I could work 
for her. She agreed to let me clean up my room, the two other bed- 
rooms on the fifth floor, the hall, and the two stairways that went down 
from that floor. It was a double house with a passage running between 
the two parts. Two white students lived in the other bedrooms. Mrs. 
Bartol had a cook and two Irish maids who taught me how to scrub 
those floors the way they did, on my hands and knees with sponges 
and cloths— a reallv thorough job. 

That work paid for my room and breakfast, but I still needed 
money for mv other meals and extras. So I persuaded Mrs. Bartol to 
pay me a little money to wash the pillowcases and towels on Satur- 
days. Luckily, I did not have to do that too long, for in November 
the Urban League got me a part-time job with a mail-order company. 
Of course, all these details of my economic problems are important 
only because they are typical of the painful struggle of young Negroes, 
even today. 

5 My Life with 

In my second semester, for an ironic reason, I got a grant from the 
state of Alabama. Because they wanted to keep their schools segre- 
gated, such grants were made to Negroes who wanted to get the 
professional training for which there were no facilities in Alabama's 
black colleges. 

Developing my voice was the most important thing to me then, 
and even to this day, with everything else that has enveloped my life, 
it still remains very important to me. I was determined to get the best 
training I could, but voice lessons were terribly expensive. Luckily, I 
did well at the conservatory and was awarded an additional onc-hun 
dred-dollar scholarship. This was applied to my fees. 

I was on my way toward a chosen career, working toward my goal. 

I feel very strongly that I was sent to Boston, directed there, be- 
cause it was in Boston that I met Martin Luther King, Jr. Neither 
Martin nor I believed in destiny, in the sense of predestination that 
one cannot change. But we both felt that God guided our lives in the 
way that He wanted us to serve, so that we might be the instruments 
of His creative will. 

I believe that there is a plan and a purpose for each person's life 
and that there are forces working in the universe to bring about good 
and to create a community of love and brotherhood. Those who can 
attune themselves to these forces— to God's purpose— can become 
special instruments of I lis will. 

From the time I was very young, I had strong hope, not only about 
success for myself but also about serving humanity. Now, I feel that 
I was being led to Martin Luther King, Jr., to fulfill this hope as his 
wife. And even though we were both very young in Boston and even 
though our courtship was not too different from a thousand others, 
it was all leading us where we were going. 

Of course, I had no premonition of this at the time; quite the 
contrary. I had not planned to get married for a long time. 1 was deeply 
interested in developing my voice and my potential in music; and by 
now I had reason to think 1 enough talent to achieve some 
success. I wanted to give myself an opportunity to find out il this 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 5 1 

was so. At the least I would have the satisfaction oF having developed 
what talent I had to its full capacity. Whether or not it was ever used 
professionally, I knew I would be a happier person for having done so. 

All these years I had waited, and now I was here in Boston in this 
environment where I was absorbing music. Everything about it seemed 
so right. I was very happy. 

Martin Luther King, who changed all this, came along in my 
second semester. 

We met through a mutual friend at the conservatory named Mary 
Powell. She was a little older than I was and was married to a nephew 
of Dr. Benjamin Mays, the president of Morehouse College in Atlanta. 
I was attracted to her because she was very intelligent and mature and 
we shared a similar southern background. Most of the students at the 
conservatory were younger than either of us— and had just graduated 
from high school. 

Of course, another reason we became friendly was that there were 
very few Negroes at the conservatory. By the time I had left Antioch, 
there were about thirty black students, but at the conservatory there 
were only about fifteen or twenty, including part-time students. 

Think of the waste that pitifully small figure represents! White 
people always marvel at the number of Negro performers in jazz and 
popular music, and then they say, with great surprise in their voices, 
"Why, I bet so-and-so is almost good enough to play in a symphony 

flow naive and unsophisticated America has made its white popu- 
lation, and how unconsciously cruel. First-rate black performers, with 
extraordinary talent, were either not able to get professional training 
at first-rate institutions or, if they had the training, were not able to 
find the jobs. How many symphonies, do you imagine, had any Ne- 
groes playing in them, for example, in 1951, when I was studying? 

One of the worst evils ol segregation was the waste of this creative 
force and the ruin of the lives of talented men and women who 
happened to be black. 

The problem was not exclusive to the conservatory. There were 
only a limited number of black students in the entire Boston area. 

5 2 My Life with 

Though there were no signs posted, as there were in the South, we 
certainly did not feel completely welcome at many white restaurants 
and nightclubs in the Boston area. Because of this, most of our social 
life was conducted at a few "southern-style restaurants" or at parties in 
private homes. Naturally, for all these reasons, black students were 
thrown together and, naturally too, there was a lot of matchmaking 
going on in the group. 

Mary Powell was a bit of a matchmaker herself, though, as I later 
learned, Martin had nudged her into the role. One day late in Jan- 
uary, 1952, she said to me, "Have you heard of ML. King, Jr.? (In 
those days everyone called him M.L., and in his own family that was 
always his name.) 

When I answered, "No," Mary began to tell me about him. "Dr. 
Mays tells me that he is a very promising voung man," she said. "He 
is at Boston University taking his doctorate. He is a Baptist minister, 
ordained in his father's church, the Ebenezer Baptist Church in 
Atlanta. He has been preaching at churches around Boston and is very 
brilliant. I want you to meet him." 

The moment Mary told me the voung man was a minister I lost 
interest, for I began to think of the stereotypes of ministers I had 
known— fundamentalists in their thinking, very narrow, and overly 
pious. Genuine piety is inspiring, but manv of the ministers I had 
met went around wearing a look of sanctity that they seemed to put 
on like their black suits. The fact that young King was a Baptist also 
prejudiced me. In the Alrican Methodist Episcopal Zion Church we 
felt that baptism by sprinkling was adequate. I remember hearing my 
lather and mother discuss with their Baptist friends whether it was 
necessary to be immersed in order to be saved. I thought 1 would never 
want to become a Baptist because I did not think it was necessary to 
be baptized by immersion. 

However, that was not the thing that mattered; it was just one ol 
ttHosr minor prejudices that came to the surface. I was really thinking 
of the Baptist churches— and mv own church too— as being overly 
emotional. 1 hough I was deeply religious, 1 was moving aua\ from 
fundamentalism. Alter I left Antioeh 1 decided that I wanted to 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 5 3 

identity mysell with a church or religious body that was more liberal 
than the kind I was brought up in. I intended to investigate the 
Quakers and Unitarianism. I was, in fact, dissatisfied with organized 
religion as I knew it and sought to find a faith with which I could 
identify totally. 

For this and other reasons, I did not attend church regularly when 
I first went to Boston. I was the only Negro living in the Beacon Mill 
section, and I did not feel comfortable going to the churches in that 
area. I said to myself, "I can worship in my room." 

Now I shall speak of things about Martin I learned much later. 
Mary Powell had known Martin Luther King, Jr., in Atlanta when he 
was at Morehouse College and she was at Spelman. They met again 
in Boston. They ate at the same restaurant, the Western Lunch Box, 
near the conservatory, where black students attending the various 
institutions of learning often gathered. It specialized in southern cook- 
ing—we would call it soul food now. I did not go there much because 
I lived far away on Beacon Hill. 

One day Martin said to her, "Mary, I am about to get cynical. I 
have met quite a few girls here, but none that I am particularly fond 
of. Do you know any nice, attractive young ladies?" 

She mentioned two girls, one of whom Martin had already met, 
and then he asked, "Who is the other one?" 

"Coretta Scott," Mary said, and began to describe me. According 
to Martin she gave me a good character: a very nice girl, intelligent, 
pretty— all those things. But she warned him that she did not think 
I was religious enough, that I did not often go to church. Later he 
told me that this did not bother him, that he did not want for a wife 
a fundamentalist or anyone too set in her beliefs. He asked Mary for 
my telephone number, and after some of Martin's powerful persuad- 
ing, she gave it to him. 

\\ hen he called me and said, "This is M.L. King, Jr.," I didn't 
recognize who he was. He quickly said, "A mutual friend of ours 
told me about you and gave me your telephone number. She said 
some very wonderful things about you and I'd like very much to meet 
you and talk to you." 

5 4 My Life with 

I began to remember then and I said, "Oh yes, I've heard some 
very nice things about you, also." That was all Martin needed to begin 
talking, very easily and smoothly. I had never heard such talk in all mv 
life. He said, "You know every Napoleon has his Waterloo. I'm like 
Napoleon. I'm at my Waterloo, and I'm on my knees." 

I must admit I enjoyed the fun. We had a long conversation in 
which he asked me about my studies and told me a little about his 
work under Professor Edgar S. Brightman. 

Finally he said, "I'd like to meet you and talk some more. Perhaps 
we could have lunch tomorrow or something like that." 

I found that I was free from twelve to one between classes the 
next day, and Martin gaily said, "I'll come over and pick you up. I 
have a green Chevy that usually takes ten minutes to make the trip 
from B.U., but tomorrow I'll do it in seven." 

The next day I waited for him on the steps outside the conserva- 
tory, on the Huntington Avenue side, in a cold January drizzle, with a 
scarf on my head and my coat buttoned up tight. The green car pulled 
up to the curb, and as I walked down the steps, I could see the young 
man sitting in the car. My first thought was, "How short he seems," 
and the second was, "How unimpressive he looks." 

Martin drove me to Sharaf's Restaurant on Massachusetts Avenue, 
where we had lunch, cafeteria style. I took off my coat and scarf. I 
still remember everything I was wearing that day. I remember the 
shoes I had on and the light-blue suit and the black coat. Martin 
looked at me very carefully. At that time I was wearing bangs that 
had a natural wave, and my hair was long. He liked that and said so. 
I was rather self-conscious but tried not to react too much, to remain as 
poised as I usually was. 

It was a little difficult, for in those few minutes I had forgotten 
about Martin being short and had completely revised my first impres 
sion. He radiated charm. When he talked, he grew in stature. Even 
when he was so young, he drew people to him from the very first 
moment with his eloquence, his sincerity, and his moral stature. I 
knew immediately that he was very special. 

We got our lunch and sat down at a table and began to talk. This 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 5 5 

young man became increasingly better-looking as he talked, so strongly 
and convincingly- With a very masculine self-possession, he seemed 
to know exactly where he was going and how he was going to get 
there. In our discussion, I must have made some reasonably intelligent 
comments, for he said, "Oh, I see you know about some other things 
besides music." 

Then we had to go back to the conservatory. In the car, Martin 
suddenly became very quiet, and he said, "Do you know something?" 

"What is that?" I asked. 

Very quietly but intensely he said, "You have everything I have 
ever wanted in a wife. There are only four things, and you have 
them all." 

Somewhat flurried, I said, "I don't see how you can say that. You 
don't even know me." 

"Yes, I can tell," he said. "The four things that I look for in a 
wife are character, intelligence, personality, and beauty. And you have 
them all. I want to see you again. When can I?" 

Still trying to keep my poise, I said, "I don't know. I'll have to 
check my schedule. You may call me later." 

I know it sounds strange that Martin should talk about marriage 
so soon in our relationship. However, Martin was ready to get married 
and was quite consciously looking for a wife. He already knew exactly 
where he was heading in his life and had formed a pretty good idea 
of the kind of wife who would fit in with that life. I do not mean 
to say that he was cold and calculating, without any romantic ideas. 
That is certainly not the case. What is true is that Martin was remark- 
ably mature for his age. He knew the sort of person he himself was, 
and the sort of woman he needed. It was as if he had no time for 
mistakes, as if lie had to make up his mind quickly and correctly, and 
then move on with his life. Our courtship had this quality, but so did 
the rest of Martin's life until the end. Think of all he did by the time 
he was thirty-nine! 

When I got home to my room after our first meeting, my intellect 
hoped that Martin had not really meant what he said about marriage. 

5 6 My Life with 

For I did not want anything to stop me, to stop my career. And my 
emotions told me that this might. I was not a young girl. I had thought 
myself in love before, but things did not work out, and I had resolved 
not to become emotionally entangled again until I was absolutely 
certain. "The next man I give my photograph to is going to be my 
husband," is the way I put it to myself. 

With Martin I had all my defenses up, but in my heart I knew 
they were not too strong. I did not know what to think about him. He 
seemed so serious, so deeply sincere in what he said. I argued with 
myself that men always flattered you and pretended to be in love, 
when they were just playing a game. But even though I had the 
feeling that the career I had wanted and worked for so hard might be 
jeopardized, I had no intention of not seeing him again. I rationalized 
it bv telling myself that he was such a fine young man, that 1 would 
wait and see what happened. 

Martin telephoned me the next day and suggested that we meet 
Saturday night. I explained that friends of mine were giving a party 
in Watertown on Saturday night, but the young man who was sup- 
posed to escort me was uncertain whether he could make it. If be 
could not, I told Martin he could join us. Martin was willing to wait 
and see. I noticed that. 

We drove to the party in Martin's car. On the way, we went by 
the conservatory to see Mary Powell. Martin said to her, "Mary, I owe 
you a thousand dollars for introducing me to this girl." Though I was 
still resisting intellectually, that was very nice to hear. 

Our arrival at the party caused quite a stir among the other girls. 
They said to him, "Oh, so you arc M.L. King, Jr. Oh! We've heard 
so much about you." 

Martin seemed pleased at the attention they gave him, but I sus- 
pect it was because he wanted to impress me. He was always very 
popular with the girls and was completely relaxed and free and 
unself-conscious. He explained his popularity bv saying, "You know 
women are hern worshipers." I lure is no question in my mind that 
he was the mosi eligible young black man in the Boston area at that 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 5 7 

He had taken me to the party, and I was his girl friend. He treated 
me with respect and consideration, but he was thoroughly enjoying 
his success— the swooning and all that. I was very calm, never letting 
it appear that it bothered me at all; because, of course, I had no claim 
on him. I never said a word. I just observed, and I could not help 
being affected. 

That same night when he brought me home, I could see things 
moving— closer and closer. 

The next day, Sunday, Martin brought his friend and roommate, 
Philip Lenud, to meet me. Philip was from Birmingham, Alabama, 
and had been at Morehouse College in Atlanta with Martin. Like 
Martin, he was the son of a Baptist minister and was a minister him- 
self, at that time the pastor of a church in Everett. Philip made quite 
a fuss over me, and I felt he approved of Martin's new girl friend. 

They both begged me to ride out to Everett with them to hear 
Philip preach, but I refused because one of the girls who also roomed 
in Mrs. Bartol's house had an intense migraine headache, and I felt I 
should not leave her. 

From that day forward Martin pursued me— not that I ran very 
hard. We had wonderful times and talks together, some of them 
quite serious. Martin had a scholarly mind, and as he told me about 
delving into philosophy, I realized the depth and breadth of his 
learning. He had studied the great German philosophers, among them 
Kant and Hegel and Nietzsche. He was influenced by Hegel and 
hated Nietzsche, whose Will to Power almost brought Martin to de- 
spair of his hope of influencing the world through the power of love, 
though it served as an antidote for Hegel's easy idealism. 

Of the more modern thinkers, Reinhold Niebuhr interested him, 
and Walter Rauschcnbusch's Christianity and the Social Crisis left 
an indelible impression on his mind, though Martin thought him "a 
victim ol the nineteenth-century cult of inevitable progress." 

Martin had, of course, read Karl Marx, who, he said, had con- 
vinced him that neither Marxism nor traditional capitalism held the 
whole truth, but each a partial truth. "I could never be a Communist," 
he said. "My father is a thoroughgoing capitalist, but I could not 

5 8 My Life with 

be that either. I think a society based on making all the money you can 
and ignoring people's needs is wrong. I don't want to mm a lot of 

Martin told me that the turning point in his thinking on how to 
reconcile Christian pacifism with getting things accomplished was 
when he heard Dr. Mordecai Johnson of Howard University give a 
lecture on Gandhi at Friendship Hall in Philadelphia. He was so 
fascinated that he went out and bought all the books he could find on 
Gandhi and nonviolence and read them at Crozer Theological Semi- 
nary. He also read Thoreau's Essay on Civil Disobedience. Though I 
don't think he had as yet consciously considered applying the Gan- 
dhian technique of nonviolence to the Negro Movement, the idea 
began germinating in his mind. Later he wrote, "Christ furnished the 
spirit; Gandhi showed how it would work." 

Even at the time we were courting, Martin was deeply concerned 
—and indignant— with the plight of the Negro in the United States. 
He talked about black people being freed from oppression, though 
never in terms of violence. He believed in nonviolent militancy and in 
redemptive love. He believed ardently in Christ's words about loving 
your enemies. Even if you get beaten by not defending yourself, he 
said, somehow your suffering helps redeem the other person and to 
purge your hatred of that person. He said, "The chain of hatred must 
be cut. When it is broken, brotherhood can begin." 

There is going to be much talk ol love in this book, so it is 
time to describe the kind of love Martin meant, as he himself later 
defined it. It is curious that in so rich a language as English there is 
only one word for all the different kinds of love. Martin said many 
times, though it bears repeating here, that the Greeks had three words 
lor it! First there was eros, which in Platonist philosophy meant the 
yearning of the soul for the divine and now has come to mean aesthetic 
or romantic love. Philia meant reciprocal love, as between friends or 
men and women. "No one,'' Martin said, "could be such a fool as to 
expect a person to feel (hat kind ol love lor his oppressor." 

The third kind of love was tioayc. This meant understanding, re- 
deeming goodwill toward all men. It was disinterested love in which 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 5 9 

the individual sought not his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 
It was not weak or passive, but love in action. It was the kind of love 
Martin aspired to give his enemies. If, because of the defect in the 
English language, he sometimes sounded mild, just remember that 
his was a militant life and a militant love. 

We talked a lot about religion also, and here too I was impressed 
by his breadth of mind. In discussing the conventional ideas about an 
afterlife, he said, "I'm not concerned with the temperature of hell or 
the furnishings of heaven, but with the things men do here on earth." 

One Sunday I went to hear Martin preach at the Twelfth Street 
Baptist Church in Roxbury. The pastor, the late Reverend William 
H. Hester, was very nice about letting young men preach from his 
pulpit to try their wings. He and Mrs. Hester were old friends of 
Martin's father and mother, so there was a special bond, and Martin 
often preached there. The first time I heard him, he chose "Three 
Dimensions of a Complete Life," the sermon he later gave at St. Paul's 
in London. Of course, it was somewhat different from the London 
sermon, not as polished, nor oriented to British understanding. Yet, 
even in its original form, "Three Dimensions" was a tremendously in- 
spiring message. I was deeply impressed. 

Martin also altered his style of speaking to relate to his audience. 
In the sober, intellectual atmosphere of New England he talked 
quietly, with reasoned argument and little emotion. That was generally 
his style as a young minister. Later, when he preached in the South 
to more emotional congregations, he became less inhibited. He re- 
sponded to their expectations by rousing oratory; and as they were 
moved, he would react to their excitement, their rising emotions ex- 
alting his own. The first thunderous "Amen" from the people would 
set him off in the old fashioned preaching style. We called it "whoop- 
ing." Sometimes, after we were married, I would tease him by saying, 
"Martin, you were whooping today." 

He would be a little embarrassed. But it was very exciting, Mar- 
tin's whooping. 

Another aspect of his liberal thinking was his attitude about de- 
tails ot ritual. When I mentioned that I would not like to become a 

6 My Life with 

Baptist because I did not believe immersion was necessary, he said, 
"You would not have to be immersed. There is no saving efficacy in 

That was when he was talking about marrying me, which he did 
much of the time from that very first day. He was quite evidently 
looking for a wife in Boston; and yet he was in an ambivalent posi- 
tion, because, as Mary Powell had told me, he was engaged to a girl 
in Atlanta. Quite early in our friendship Martin told me about her 

She was, he said, a fine girl whose parents were very close to his. 
Their "engagement" was more an assumption on the part of their 
families and of themselves that someday they would marry than a 
formal arrangement. His father "was very keen on it," Martin told 
me. "My father wants me to marry, and he will help me to take 
care of my wife as long as I'm in school. But I am going to make my 
own decisions; I will choose my own wife." 

He made it clear that I was his choice, though he was concerned 
about my attitude toward the career I was preparing for. Martin had, 
all through his life, an ambivalent attitude toward the role of women. 
On the one hand, he believed that women are just as intelligent and 
capable as men and that they should hold positions of authority and 
influence. But when it came to his own situation, he thought in terms 
of his wife being a homemaker and a mother for his children. I le was 
very definite that he would expect whoever he married to be home 
waiting for him. 

At the same time, Martin, even in those days, would say, "I don't 
want a wife I can't communicate with." From the beginning, he 
would encourage me to be active outside of the home, and would be 
very pleased when I had ideas of my own or even when I could fill in 
for him. Yet— it was the female role he was most anxious for me to play. 

There were also other considerations he had thought about. He 
would say, "I must have a wife who will be as dedicated as I am. I 
will be the pastor of a large Negro church in the South. That's where 
I plan to live and work. I want the kind of wife who will fit into 
that kind of situation. Can you adjust yourself to 'Aunt Jane'?" 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 6 1 

Bv "Aunt Jane, " Martin meant the good but uneducated parish- 
ioner who does not know the difference between "you does" and "you 
don't." 1 le always had a strong love for the people and a very strong 
sympathy for the underdog, for the masses, as he would have said. Of 
course, I had grown up among women like "Aunt Jane" and had no 
qualms about adjusting to them. For I felt that no matter how far I 
had gone and might go, I would never forget mv origins or look 
down upon the kind of people who were my own. I tried to reassure 

Martin saw me as a young lady who was studying music with 
deep cultural appreciation, and to whom the aura of Antioch clung. 
He was concerned that it might have so far removed me from the 
people that I would not be able to make the necessarv adjustment. It 
is, reallv, sometimes difficult for Negroes who have had this experi- 
ence to go back into an all-black communitv and find a balance. In- 
evitably, vou adopt the white man's standards, and vou unconsciously 
begin to act as they would expect you to act rather than being your- 

Martin was concerned about me because at that time he did not 
know of the early struggles I had gone through in order to survive. 
1 [e did not vet know I was from such a culturally deprived background. 
I felt that because I had this kind of background and identification 
with the masses, I would have no problems. I had not forgotten my 

And that is how it proved to be. Martin and I never had serious 
differences of opinion about racial matters or economics, or the diffi- 
cult and terrible and glorious things that so unexpectedly befell us. 

But it took me a long time to make up my mind. I had such a dis- 
similar plan for mv life, and as I have said, I did not want to marry 
a minister. But he was so different from the stereotype I had en- 
visioned. He was good— such a very good man. His conscience was 
a formidable thing that kept him on the path he thought was right. 
If he ever did something a little wrong, or committed a selfish act, his 
conscience fairly devoured him. He would, throughout his life, really 
suffer if he felt there was some possibility that he had wronged anyone 

6 2 My Life with 

or acted thoughtlessly. When this happened, if it were possible, he 
would always make apologies and seek forgiveness. He felt that having 
been born into what was a middle-class Negro family was a privilege 
he had not earned, just as he felt the many honors heaped on him in 
the later years were not his alone. He would constantly examine him- 
self to determine if he were becoming corrupted, if he were accepting 
honors too easily. He was very sensitive about having people do things 
for him because of his position. He was extremely grateful for any 
help he got. He was a truly humble man and never felt he was ade- 
quate to his positions. That is why he worried so much, worked so 
hard, studied constantly, long after he had become a world figure. 
These qualities enabled him to continue to grow. 

But he was also so alive and funny, and so much fun to be with. 
He was a great tease; how he loved to tease me when we were courting 
by pretending to like some other girl until I rose to the bait, my eyes 
spitting fire. How he would laugh at me then! 

He loved to dance and was a good dancer. He loved people and 
enjoyed parties and, especiallv, good conversation. He loved music too. 
I remember the first concert he took me to at Symphony Hall in Bos- 
ton. I was touched that Martin, who knew how much music meant to 
me, would think of that kind of date. Artur Rubinstein was the pianist, 
the first time I ever heard him play. In spite of my great love of music, 
I had attended no concerts with famous artists— until I went to Anti- 
och. When I did, it was a great pleasure for me. 

As Martin made comments on the various selections, I thought at 
first that he wanted to impress me that he knew about music too. But 
I soon realized that I was not being fair. He was so genuinelv pleased 
to be able to take me to this concert, which I could not otherwise have 
afforded; he was so happy in my pleasure that I stopped being watch 
ful. We shared the concert together and enjoyed it very much. 

Another way that Martin began to groom me for my role as the 
wife of a Baptist minister was in my clothes. In those early days he 
was very fastidious about his appearance, while 1 had been first told 
by my mother and lather, and then indoctrinated in the Antioch atti- 
tude that clothes don't matter. I had a good coat and some nice dresses. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 6 3 

but I took no great pains about my appearance. I might comb my hair 
in the morning and seldom touch it again all day, nor retrace my lip- 

Very gently Martin would make suggestions. "Perhaps you'd like 
to go to the ladies' room and comb your hair." "You look so pretty 
with lipstick on." "Why don't you buy that pretty red coat we saw in 
Filene's window?" and such things as that. I finally saw what he was 
aiming at and began to be more concerned about my personal ap- 

But with all the fun we had, and his charm and his growing love 
for me, I still was not sure. As we began to talk more seriously about 
marriage, I asked myself again and again, "Is this really what I want?" 

Finally I thought, "If I am serious about a commitment to service, 
how better could I serve than as a minister's wife?" But I still had to 
convince myself. 

I prayed earnestly to God, "Oh, Lord, help me to make the right 
decision." I knew this was the most important decision of my life, that 
it had to be the right one. This process of careful thought and prayer- 
ful meditation went on for about two or three months. 

One thing that worried me was that I knew Martin's big problem 
in deciding whom to marry was his great love and respect for his 
father. Whatever he might say about deciding for himself, I recog- 
nized that his father might be the determining factor, because of the 
strong influence he had on his son. I wondered whether, if his father 
said no, Martin would give in to him. Mary Powell had told me that 
she believed Rev. King, Sr., wanted his son to marry the girl in Atlanta, 
and she doubted if Martin would make the final decision himself. As 
I fell more deeply in love with him, this worried me a great deal. It 
seems strange but a dream helped me to decide. 

In my dream Martin's father, whom I had never met, was there, 
and the girl in Atlanta was also there. Martin's father was smiling at 
me, and somehow I knew he approved of me. I woke up with a 
great feeling of relief. It seemed a miraculous kind of thing. 

I was wrestling with this problem throughout April and May. I 
realized that I did want marriage and a family. Without those things 

6 4 My Life with 

my life would be incomplete. It was not until later in the fall that I 
finally decided that because I really loved Martin, I would go ahead 
and marry him and let the question of my career take care of itself. 
However, I was determined to go on and get mv degree. I would finish 
that much, so I would have a sense of accomplishment, even though 
I would not have the kind of career I had planned. 

It may seem unusual for a girl in love to think things out so 
thoroughly, though I did not consider it so. This was, and still is, 
my way of dealing with problem situations. I have always faced my 
problems and dealt with them. In addition, my decision did not con- 
cern only me. I worried about whether if I were discontented and had 
conflicts Martin's promising career would suffer. 

Another thing that helped me to decide was that Edythe came to 
Boston that summer. After graduating from Ohio State she had taken 
her master's degree in the teaching of English at Columbia University. 
Though I did not confide in Edythe how serious I was about Martin, 
the fact that she liked him very much was a good mark in his 

I did not tell Martin of my decision right away. Instead, I made 
up my mind to stay in Boston and study for most of the summer 
instead of going home. We continued to see each other constantly. In 
July he was going back to Atlanta and asked me to visit him there. I 
had to pass through Atlanta on my way to Alabama, so I could do it 
easily enough. But to test him, to see if he really wanted me or not, 
I said, "No. I don't think I will." 

He was very upset. He said, "If you don't want to come— just 
forget everything. Forget it. Forget the whole thing." Later we used 
to laugh about his ultimatum. 

I realized that if this thing was going to work out between us, I 
would need to meet his family— his father and mother, and see his 
church. I also wanted to determine for myself il it was a situation I 
could adapt to and be happy in, and il I could have a real place in 
Martin's life. 

Martin drove home in his ear. 1 had to have my tonsils removed, 
so I waited in Boston until August first lor my final checkup, and 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 6 5 

then took the train. When I came to Atlanta I was very much on 
guard, watching everything. Though I had tentatively made up my 
mind, I was still overtly resisting. There was no commitment. 

My first visit to Atlanta was not an unqualified success. I was to 
stay with Mary Powell, who was home for the summer. When I 
stepped off the train, Martin and Mary were there to meet me. We 
drove out of the station into the mass of traffic on Peachtree Street. 
Then we went several blocks, turned a couple of corners and stopped. 
Martin's mother got into the car. I had not expected to meet her so 
soon, and was put a little off balance. Mrs. King is a short woman, 
meticulously and fashionably dressed. She is a little hard to know, 
at first, not unlike my own mother. Even so, I was somewhat nervous. 
When Martin said, "Mother, this is Coretta Scott," her greeting was 
polite but casual. 

We drove first to the Kings' big yellow-brick house on Boulevard. 
It was a lovely home, and it gave me a new view of Martin's back 
ground, and some new problems. I did not understand then that 
the King family was entirely wrapped up in the Ebenezer Church 
and its congregation. When I saw their comfortable home, all I could 
think of was the well-known, rather closed social life of the Negro 
middle class of Atlanta. I had heard about their clubs and social 
functions and their "exclusiveness." I was a little concerned about 
how the family would react to me, an outsider, as well as how I would 
like the atmosphere. 

I realized later that the Kings were dedicated people who judged 
others on their own merits and that my early fears were unneces- 
sary. I met Martin's father for the first time that day. He was a big 
man, bigger than I expected. One could feel his strength of char- 
acter as well as his physical power. He was gentle and courteous, 
but he too was casual. As he said long afterward, "I didn't pay much 
attention to Coretta that first time. I wanted Martin to marry another 
girl, and I wanted him to get married soon. There were so many girls 
who liked him. They were pushing him. I was afraid he would get 
tied up with one we did not like." 

6 6 My Life with 

I spent the night at Mary Powell's house, and the next dav, Sun- 
day, we all went to Ebenezer Church. It was a modest-sized handsome 
building on Auburn Avenue. The unpretentious interior was finished 
in off-white with polished woodwork that had a golden tone. There 
were lovely stained-glass windows. Behind the pulpit the white-robed 
choir sat in tiers of seats. They sang very beautifully. In the pews and 
the balcony, which overhung a third of the main floor, there were 
seats for eight hundred people. I was told that Reverend King had 
brought the membership of Ebenezer up from a few hundred, when 
he first was called to its pastorate, to nearly four thousand. 

In summer, to give his father a rest, Martin took over the responsi- 
bilities of pastoring and preaching, and he preached that Sunday I 
was there. As always, his sermon was both interesting and moving. 
After church we all got together at the Kings' home. I met his brother, 
A.D. and Naomi, his wife, and their little girl, Alveda, a charming 
child who called me Coco and took a great liking to me. 

A.D., also a minister, graduated from Morehouse and the Interde- 
nominational Theological Center in Atlanta. During his pastorate in 
Birmingham he was very active in the Birmingham Movement. Later 
he accepted a pastorate in Louisville, Kentucky, where he organized 
the Kentucky Leadership Conference and gave invaluable leadership 
to it. 

Naomi, A.D.'s pretty young wife, was also an Alabamian. Many 
people said then that there was a striking resemblance between the 
two of us. When I first knew her, Naomi appeared gentle, sweet, and 
sympathetic. Later, I was to learn that she combined all the qualities of 
a strong and loving wife and mother: kindness, compassion and un- 
selfish devotion to her loved ones. 

I had met Martin's sister, Christine, when she was visiting 
him in Boston during the spring holidays. She greeted me on this 
occasion with warmth and friendliness. (Christine, a graduate of 
Spelman College and Columbia University, is now a professor of read- 
ing at Spelman.) 

We went to church again that evening. I noticed how easy and 
loving Martin was with the members ol the congregation and how 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 6 7 

they accepted him as a leader, despite his youth. Watching him at 
Ebenezer, it was impossible not to be proud of him. 

Afterward, Martin had to pay some visits to church members, and 
I went back to Mary's house. I stayed with her family a day or two 
more and then went on to Marion to visit my family. 

Martin promised to come to Marion to see me in my own home, 
but something interfered and he did not come. However, he asked 
Mary Powell and me to drive back to Boston with him. My mother 
did not like the idea. She said, "If I were you, I'd just go on back the 
way vou had planned. You have your ticket. Go back on the train as 
you planned, without stopping at Atlanta." 

We argued about it gently. Finally I made my own decision. "I'll 
go back to Atlanta and ride up with them," I told her. 

Mother was not too happy about it. Of course, she had not yet met 
Martin and so could not understand my going to so much trouble to 
ride back to Boston with him. 

Martin and Philip Lenud had taken a little apartment together on 
Massachusetts Avenue, in a predominantly black section of Boston. 
It was near the conservatory and I stopped in nearly every afternoon. 
Once, during the summer, when Edythe was there, Martin had said 
half seriously, "Coretta, how good a cook are you?'' 

Edythe and I went to his apartment one Sunday afternoon and I 
cooked mv specialty, banana pudding, and Martin's favorite cabbage 
smothered in bacon; my sister did Creole pork chops. Of course, we 
had corn bread and tossed salad. Martin and Philip ate it all appreci- 
atively. When we finished, Martin teased me and said I had passed the 
test. Though I didn't like the idea of a "test," I felt pretty good. 

In November, Martin's father and mother came to Boston to visit 
him. I hat brought things to a head. At Martin's suggestion I continued 
to drop by almost every aiternoon while they were there. Daddy King 
began to realize that there were no other girls around. I le started ask 
ing Martin about the girls he bad known before he bad met me and 
lound that they just did not exist anymore as far as Martin was con- 

6 8 My Life with 

He talked to me about it one afternoon, with Martin sitting right 
there. He said, "Coretta, do you take my son seriously?" 

I said, "No," but I thought he was referring to something Martin 
had just said. 

He said, "I'm glad to hear you say that. You know, I don't under- 
stand this young man. He's gone out with some of the finest girls- 
beautiful girls, intelligent, from fine families. We love people and we 
want to be nice to everyone, but we don't know how to act. He gets us 
involved, and then he just seems to lose interest. Those girls have a 
lot to offer." 

By this time I was getting a little irritated, and I said rather sternly, 
"I have something to offer too." 

Reverend King seemed to pay no attention, but he remembered 
that. Ever since, when I have achieved recognition in any way, like 
doing a successful concert, or helping Martin in a difficult situation, 
Daddy King teasingly has said, "Coretta, I have something good to 
offer too." And he says affectionately, "You know, that's right. You 
sure do have something to offer!" It became a family joke. 

But there in Martin's little apartment he did not seem to notice. 
He went on to tell me all about the girl in Atlanta. "A fine family 
... a very talented . . . wonderful personality. We love that girl. 
I don't know what M.L. is going to decide. But I'm glad to hear you 
say you don't take him seriously, because unless you know my son 
better than I do, I would advise you not to." 

I said to myself, "I think I do know him better than you do." 

All that time Martin had not said a word. He just sat there grin- 
ning like an embarrassed schoolboy. I le did not want to hurt his 
father by going against him. He was amazingly respectful, thoughtful, 
and considerate of Daddv King's feelings. Yet he was completely his 
own man. He made his decisions, and his father would hear about 
them. And his father would come around. 

But I sat there thinking, "Why don't you say something?" 

At last Martin got up and went to the other room, where his 
mother was. 1 le told her about me. And he said, "Coretta is going to 
be my wile." But he did not tell his father. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 6 9 

When Martin drove me home, he was displeased with me because 
he feared I had not made a good impression on his father. 

I said, "It was difficult for me, hearing about what great person- 
alities your other girls had. I could not pretend to like it. I can't be 

Daddy King came around sooner than we expected. Only two 
days later he suddenly slammed his big hand down on the table and 
said, "You all are courting too hard. What's this doing to your 

Martin said, "I'm going on to get my doctorate, and then I'm going 
to marry Coretta." 

Reverend King turned to me and asked, "What about you, Cor- 
etta? How are you getting on at the conservatory?" 

"I'm getting on all right, but it is difficult." 

"That's what I thought," said Reverend King. Wham went his 
hand on the table again. "Now you two had better get married." 

Only in the past few months has Daddy King told me his 
thoughts about me. He told me how concerned he was that Martin 
had made the wrong choice and how Christine had said, "She's a fine 
girl. You must accept it, for Martin is going to marry her." 

Daddy King also said that he was influenced by the fact that his 
little granddaughter Alveda was so fond of "Coco" and kept asking 
about her. "If that little girl loved you, I thought, you must be a fine 
girl, and then in Boston I really got to know you and decided that you 

And only the other day Daddy King said to a group of people in 
my presence, "I don't believe there was any girl who could have 
fitted into Martin's life as Coretta did. No other could have gone 
through what she did with him and afterward. She has been a 
source of strength to me— to the whole family. I will never forget her 
saying throughout the years to me, 'Dad, you've got to understand 
what it all means. It will be all right.' " 

After Martin's parents left Boston we discussed marriage in 
a serious way. We tentatively decided that at Eastcrtimc we would 


announce our engagement in the Negro newspaper Atlanta Daily 
World. We would be married in June after the school year ended. 

Martin went home alone for Christmas— I could not afford to go 
home. He had to convince his father still another time and persuade 
him that I was the right one. Finally his father gave in. He said, "I 
can see that is your choice. I agree to it because I respect your 
opinion and your choice." 

Meanwhile I wrote to Edythe that I was probably going to marry 
Martin and asked her if she thought I was doing the right thing. When 
her reply came, I had already made up my mind, but she further 
confirmed my decision. Though I do not have her letter, I can re- 
member what she said, "Don't have silly doubts, Coretta. You know 
how difficult it is to find a stable, intelligent, dedicated man. Martin 
has these qualities in an unusual way. If you love him, go ahead and 
marry him. You won't have the career you dreamed of, but you'll have 
a career. You will not be marrying any ordinary young minister." 

After that I decided to switch my major at the conservatory from 
performing arts to musical education with a voice major, so I could 
teach wherever we lived instead of having to travel all over the country 
giving concerts. Martin had said, "When I come home I want my wife 
to be there." When I decided to marry him, I said to myself, "Regard- 
less of what happens after I marry Martin, I will adjust myself to 
these conditions, whatever they may be. Wherever Martin lives, I 
I will live there too. Whatever he does, I will be involved in it." 

And I think that having made that decision— the most important 
in my life— is what made all the rest possible. The amazing and won- 
derful and terrible things that came later in our lives created no 
problems between us. I had decided I would be the wife of Martin 
Luther King, Jr., and though I could not foresee what the future held 
—his leadership of the Civil Rights Movement, the work and the 
strain, the dangers, his fame, and the tragedy— there was never a 
moment when we were not united in our love and dedication, never 
a moment that I wanted to be anything but the wife of Martin 
Luther King. 




.artin and I were married by 
Daddy King on the lawn of my parents' home on June 18, 1953. 
It was not the house I grew up in, but one my father had recently 
built in Marion, next door to his general merchandise store. I decided 
not to have a typical wedding with a formal white gown and all the 
rest, but rather to have a small private wedding, and wear a pastel, 
waltz-length gown. 

With the Antioch attitude of disdaining materialism, I would 
not even choose a pattern for my silver or china, though, as the years 
passed, I realized that I needed such things and had to buy them. 

When we got down to making lists, there were between three and 
four hundred people we felt we needed to invite, so instead of the small 
wedding I had envisioned, it was the biggest ever held in that com- 
munity. All the King family came from Atlanta, as well as some of 
the deacons and trustees of Ebenezer, and some Atlanta friends. Edythe 
and 1 drove into Marion to meet all them on the day of the wedding. 

My father was somewhat surprised and mentioned the old custom 

7 2 My Life with 

that the bride and groom are not supposed to see each other before the 
ceremony. Though I laughed and said I didn't care about such con- 
ventions, I did have a twinge of superstition and was concerned about 
whether people would think me a bit forward. 

Soon the "motorcade" from Atlanta arrived, led by Martin. He 
and I went immediately to the courthouse to get the license, and then 
all of us drove the nine miles to our house. 

None of the Kings had ever met my parents, and I was unneces- 
sarily concerned about whether they would form a favorable impression 
of our home in the country. All my training at Lincoln and Antioch, 
and even my knowledge of Martin and his family, ought to have kept 
me from feeling that way, but of course I couldn't help wondering if 
they had been so conditioned by middle-class values that they might 
be concerned with such superficialities. Also, I wanted the Kings to 
accept me and my background for what they were. 

I did not want to appear to be trying to "impress" the Kings. In 
fact, I was very much against that attitude. Still, I wanted so much for 
the families to get along well, and I wanted them to be comfortable 
together. I really think that my prospective in-laws had not been 
expecting to find in a country area so comfortable and nice a house as 
ours was by that time. Certainly, my parents were people of such 
obvious character and with such high standards, there was no question 
of their being accepted. I suppose those are not uncommon worries of 
prospective brides or grooms. 

I was silly to have worried. The meeting between the families 
went off very well. Martin rushed into the house saying, "Hello, 
Mother," as he kissed my mother. That really did it! Then Reverend 
King came in, looking so tall and dignified that my mother seemed 
awed. But he was so gentle and kind, she soon got over that teeling. 
The two mothers had a lot in common. 

We had the usual country-style dinner, part ol which I had 
cooked myself, with a variety of southern dishes with their special 
country Savor. I was doing .1 dozen things at once. Christine and my 
sister, EdytRe, went out and picked some vines and flowers to decorate 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 7 3 

the wedding arch, and though I seem to have needed to manage 
everything myself, I allowed them to do that. Then Daddy King took 
Martin and me aside for the little talk he always gives young couples 
before they are married. We sat on chairs outside of my father's 
store. I don't remember too much of what he said because my mind 
was on so many things, but I do recall that he said to me, "Coretta, 
if I were you I would not marry M.L. unless I could not help myself. 
M.L., I would not marry Coretta unless I could not help myself. I 
preach because I can't help myself, and when you get married you 
should think of it like that, as something you are impelled to do. Think 
about this for a few moments and decide if this is the way you feel." 

Martin and I had long ago decided that, and it was easy for us 
to reassure Daddy King. 

We were both very tired. Martin had driven almost straight 
through from Boston, and I had been arranging so many of the de- 
tails of the wedding that I was nervous and on edge. We had ordered 
a grass mat, and when it was not delivered in time for the seven- 
o'clock ceremony I got upset and unfairly blamed my father. I was 
so concerned about having everything go perfectly. 

My father said, 'Why don't you just hold off the ceremony for 
a little while?" 

I blew up then and answered in a very angry tone, "Daddy, I'm 
not going to wait. The wedding is going to come off exactly as 

Daddy King looked at me very sternly. He told me later that he 
had been surprised to discover that I had a temper. 

Then the guests began to arrive, and I went to my room to put 
on the wedding dress I had bought in Boston. It was a gown of pale- 
blue lace and net, and I wore gloves and shoes of the same color. 
Christine had designed my veil, with a crown made of flowers. 

In spite ol all my worries, it was a lovely wedding. Edythe was my 
maid of honor, and A.D. was Martin's best man. We stood under a 
little arch we had built in the garden, and Daddy King performed the 
short, simple service. At our request, he left out the bride's promise to 

7 4 My Life with 

obey. He didn't object to this departure from custom because by this 
time he had learned that, on some issues, the thinking of young 
people was different from his. 

After the wedding there was a reception. Martin, who was usually 
so congenial, was so exhausted he almost fell asleep on the receiv- 
ing line. Then we motored in to Marion; I asked him to let me drive 
because I was afraid he would go to sleep at the wheel. As a matter 
of fact, he slept all the way to town. We spent that night at the home 
of friends, Mr. and Mrs. Robert E. Tubbs. Mr. Tubbs was the under- 
taker my mother's family used. In later years Martin would say jok- 
ingly, "Do you know, we spent our honeymoon at a funeral parlor." 

I suppose it does sound funny, but one has to realize there were 
no hotels with bridal suites for Negroes in that part of the country. 
Furthermore, the undertaker played a special role in rural Negro life, 
somewhat comparable to the friendly protectiveness that an older 
doctor might assume in a small community. When we needed extra 
chairs for a party, or to get a telephone message to a family without a 
phone, or the use of a car, it was the undertaker we called. 

On Friday we went to Atlanta. The Kings gave a reception for 
us that evening so that Martin's friends could meet me. Everybody 
had a very special feeling for Martin, and naturally they were con- 
cerned about the girl he had married. The people who came greeted 
me warmly and welcomed me. Since Martin and I were rested, we 
enjoyed the fine party in Atlanta more than our wedding. 

On Sunday Martin preached at Ebenezer, and I joined the Baptist 
Church. I had discussed this before with Daddy King, who said, "It 
you don't want to be immersed, it is not necessary in order lor you to 
become a Baptist. As far as I am concerned, you don't need to be im- 
mersed. But, since Martin is going to be a pastor, there might be an 
objection by some of the church people, I think maybe you should do 

At this point, I no longer had any conflict about sprinkling versus 
immersion, and I was willing to go through with this ritual as a matter 
of course. 

At the Sunday-evening service, after 1 had joined the Baptist 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 7 5 

Church, I dressed in the traditional white baptismal robe and was 
led to the baptismal pool behind the choir loft, where Daddy King 
stood in the waist-high water. He wore boots and a rubber suit that 
came to his chest, over which he wore a black robe and long rubber 
gloves. I walked into the pool to where he stood. Daddy King gently 
pushed my head under the water in the ceremony of baptism, saying, 
"I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy 

Martin and I already had shared a deeply religious feeling, and 
this ceremony, in a sense, helped to bring us closer through its sym- 
bolic meaning. 

The next day, Monday, I went to work as a clerk in the Atlanta 
Citizens' Trust Company, of which Daddy King was a director. We 
lived in the Kings' big house all that summer, because we were going 
back to school in Boston in the fall. 

In Atlanta I learned more about Martin's family and his growing 
up than he had ever told me. His father had come from a small town 
outside of Atlanta called Stockbridge. For Martin's grandfather, James 
Albert King, had been a sharecropper on a plantation in this little town 
in the country outside Atlanta. He never had a chance to get ahead. 
He was the victim of an agricultural system inexorable as the seasons 
and far less rewarding. In those days— and, unfortunately, in many 
southern areas today— sharecroppers, Martin's grandfather among 
them, bought their seed on credit from the plantation owner. They 
also bought from him all the other things they needed— household 
supplies, food, clothing— everything on credit. At harvest time before 
the crop was equally divided, the year's debts had to be paid. But 
there never seemed to be enough money to get out from under. James 
King might work hard all the year and still end up owing four hundred 
dollars to the owner. The next year it was the same; he toiled and 
reaped and dug, and his digging buried him always deeper. What is 
so unfair about the system is that the sharecropper pays all the ex- 
penses, but he must share the profits with the plantation owner. The 
landlord advances the sharecropper whatever he needs and then does 

7 6 My Life with 

his own bookkeeping and his own reckoning of what must be sub- 
tracted from the benefits. 

Once when Daddy King was quite young he was present at the 
annual reckoning between his father and the plantation owner. The 
calculations were rapid and bewildering. "So many bales of cotton 
sells at one hundred dollars per 500 pound bale, equaling an amount 
which, divided by two, equals another amount. Here's your bill, so 
you owe me fifty dollars." 

Daddy King had a keen mind for business. He said to his father, 
"Papa, don't forget to figure in the cotton seeds." The seeds had sold 
for enough to have cleared the debt. The white man barked back to 
his father, "Now, listen, you take care of that boy. Because if you 
don't, I will." James King said quietly, "No, it won't be like that," 
and he sent his boy away. But as Daddy King was leaving, he called 
back over his shoulder, "Remember the seeds, Papa." 

People often wonder whether the spirit of nonviolence flowed 
naturally to Martin from his parents and grandparents. Daddy King 
tells this story about one incident when he was a small boy. One day 
his mother gave him a pail and told him to fetch some water. He 
had filled the pail and started back home when a white man stopped 
him and said, "Hey, boy, give me that water." Daddy King said, "I 
can't. My mamma told me to bring it to her." 

The white man insisted, "Boy, I said give me that pail." 

Daddy King replied, "I'm not gonna do it." 

The white man pulled him close to him, tore his clothes off, 
stripped him until he was naked, and beat him. When Daddy King 
went back and told his mother what had happened, the first thing she 
said was, "You must swear to me that you will not tell your papa 
about this, because if you tell him, he'll kill that white man." 

She then picked up a club and went out and beat the man herself. 
Apparently the shame of it caused him to say nothing about the inci- 
dent, and it seemed to blow over. However, in the community, the 
story got around, and Martin's grandfather, when he heard it, got 
a gun and went alter that white man. At one point, die Kings were 
driven off the land for a time. They were hunted, and they lived in 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 7 7 

the woods for weeks, until finally the crisis blew over. As you can 
see, the spirit of nonviolence was not inherited from Martin's family. 
What is also amazing is how young Martin's father was when he was 
taught "You must stand up for vour rights." 

James King had ten children, of whom his son Martin Luther 
was the second. Daddy King had a miserable youth because of the 
Family's extreme poverty and because, in a life without hope, his 
father sought refuge in drink. I think that watching his father strug- 
gling with this problem is one of the reasons Daddy King turned out 
to be so strong a teetotaler. 

The job that was especially Daddy King's all during the time he 
was growing up was currying the mules. At the Stockbridge school 
the other children would tell him he smelled like a mule, and most 
likely he did. He would answer, "I may smell like a mule, but I don't 
think like one." However, this aroma of his honest labor made him 
shy with the girls and very self-conscious. 

Later he would say, "You know, I've got a mule complex. I 
vowed when I left the country: I'm not going to be a slave, and I'm 
not going to plow another mule." 

When Daddy King was sixteen he left home and started walking 
toward Atlanta with his only pair of shoes slung over his shoulder. 
As he went past the plantation owner's brick house, he told himself, 
"Someday I'm going to have a brick house as big as that— bigger. 
Someday I'm even going to be a director of a bank like that man." 
Eventually my remarkable father-in-law did both, and a lot more be- 

At that time his chances looked small. He had only a sixth-grade 
education from the little plantation school in Stockbridge, but he had 
a football player's build, a good brain, and a spirit as strong as his 
body. He worked hard all day— as a mechanic's helper, as a fireman, 
and at whatever other jobs he could get. At night he went to school. 
He was fervently religious and began preaching— "because I couldn't 
help it." 1 lis eloquence in the pulpit was inspired by a powerful faith 
and a deep love of people. 

Martin's lather was pastoring at two small churches outside of 

7 8 My Life with 

Atlanta when he met Alberta Christine Williams. Her father, the 
Reverend Adam Daniel Williams, was the well-known pastor of 
Ebenezer Baptist Church on Auburn Avenue, a position he had then 
held for over thirty years. Alberta was a small young woman who was 
then teaching school after having studied at Spelman College in 

Spelman was considered the best Negro women's college and is 
still a fine school with a rich curriculum and an excellent staff. As a 
matter of fact, I believe the road to integration should be a two-way 
street, and with the difficulties of college placement these days, more 
white families ought to consider fine Negro schools such as Spelman 
and Morehouse. 

After graduating from Spelman, my mother-in-law had gone to 
Hampton Institute in Virginia and then returned to Atlanta to teach. 
She and the young Martin Luther King fell in love and were married, 
with the Reverend Williams' blessing. The young couple moved into 
the Williamses' big wooden Victorian house on Auburn Avenue. With 
the Negro-owned Citizens' Trust Company, the Atlanta Life Insurance 
Company, real-estate firms, and other businesses, it was the main 
business street of the Negro community in Atlanta. 

A little later, Reverend Williams asked his son-in-law to join him 
as assistant pastor. Then, in 1931, Reverend Williams preached his 
thirty-seventh anniversary sermon. He died of a heart attack that same 
week, and Reverend King became pastor at Ebenezer. 

Reverend Williams' wife, Jennie, Martin's grandmother, contin- 
ued to live with the Kings as their three children were born— Chris- 
tine, Martin Luther, Jr., and Altred Daniel. Martin would tell me of 
his grandmother's wonderful spiritual qualities and also of her soft 
heart. When Daddy King would whip Martin for something he'd 
done, Martin would take his punishment without a word, determined 
never to cry, even when he was quite young. But in the background, 
always, was his Grandmother Williams, tears streaming down her Face, 
unable to bear the punishment. 

Even with his family and church responsibilities, Martin's father 
kept studying. He graduated from high school and went On to study 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 7 9 

at Morehouse College. He finally got his degree there when his chil 
dren were growing up. Second only to Reverend King's religion was 
his ambition to make something of himself. In addition to his church- 
work, he kept on with his business pursuits. He eventually became a 
director of the Citizens' Trust Company, and had an interest in other 
businesses. He always said, "If I could keep from preaching, I'd make a 
better businessman than a minister." He was prominent in civic as 
well as religious affairs, becoming a trustee of Morehouse College, 
Atlanta University, and Morris Brown College. 

Daddy King has always been a great penny-saver. Even after Martin 
and I were married his father carried thrift to an extreme we would 
often joke about. If chickens were on sale somewhere in town, he 
would drive across the city to save ten cents, ignoring the cost of the 
gasoline he used, for the pleasure of a bargain. He would complain 
about our paying to have our car washed, saying, "You should wash it 

Martin, the sociologist, would answer, "Daddy, I have a theory 
about that. You know society is based on the division of labor, 
and if I wash my own car it means somebody else doesn't have a 

His father would smile and say, "You go ahead, son. Spend your 
money! If you go broke, I guess I'll always have a dime in my pocket 
for you." He meant it too. He may be thrifty, but, particularly where 
his family is concerned, he is very generous. 

Martin's mother is extremely fashionable and well dressed and has 
a keen sense of humor— I think Martin inherited it from her. She has 
many wonderful stories to tell. One of my favorites is of the time, one 
Sunday morning, when she and Daddy King were driving through the 
country trying to find a small church at which he'd been invited to 

They stopped an old Negro man walking down the road and asked 
him for directions. He said, "Let's see, now. To get to that church, 
you go down this road about two miles, then turn right . . . No, 
that's not right. What you do is, you turn around and go up to the 
crossroads, then turn left and . . . No, that's not right, either. Let's 

8 My Lif 


see . . ." He scratched his head and said, "You know, I reckon I 
don't know where that church is." 

The Kings thanked him for his trouble and pulled away. Suddenly 
they heard someone calling, and looking back, they saw the old man 
huffing and puffing down the road to catch up with them. 

They stopped, backed up the car, and waited while he tried to catch 
his breath and then listened expectantly. 

He panted out, "I just wanted to say ... I just wanted to tell 
you ... I just saw my brother, and I asked him . . . and he don't 
know where that church is either." 

Mamma King has enormous energy and dedication to the church 
and its members. Throughout the years, when the rest of the family 
may have been busy with other matters, it was Mamma King who 
would call at one o'clock in the morning— or six— to discuss a wonderful 
idea for a young people's group, or lor a special church program. 

Her influence on Martin was enormous in the example of her 
quiet strength, temperament, fastidiousness, and high moral standards. 
Her talent and love of music have been a blessing to the whole family 
as well as to Ebenezer. 

As to Daddy King, of course he loved all his children— but he 
adored Martin. Only the other day he talked about some of these 
things for the first time since the tragedy. He said, "There was always 
something special about M.L. Even before he could read, he kept 
books around him, he just liked the idea of having them. He learned 
to recite the Scriptures before he was five, years before he could read 
the Bible for himself. His Grandmother Williams was a religious 
woman and was an inspiration to the child. When he was only six 
years old— and very small for his age— he used to sing hymns from 

"We look him to a Baptist convention about that time. 1 lis mother 
played the piano, and M.L. sang his favorite gospel song, 'I Want 
To Be Mom- and More Like Jesus.' When he finished, people were 
shouting and crying. But the bov didn't get pulled up, he just wenl 
and sat down, very quiet and humble. 

"M.L. liked to listen to good preachers before he was old enough 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 8 1 

to understand them. If he heard that some outstanding man was going 
to speak, he would ask me to take him. I remember after one such 
occasion when he was only about ten, he said, 'That man had some 
big words, Daddy. When I grow up I'm going to get me some big 
words.' As soon as he could read, he lived in dictionaries, and he made 
that saying come true." 

\\ hen Daddy King tells these stories about Martin, it makes him 
sound rather precocious and too good to be true, but he was not like 
that at all. He always had a playful sense of humor and liked practical 
jokes. As a child he was small, but very strong and quick, good 
at sports. When he got older, he was quarterback of the football 
team at Morehouse College, because in spite of light weight, his com- 
pact body and tremendous spirit made him very hard to stop. He also 
loved to plav basketball, and he was a strong swimmer. Though he 
liked tennis, he seldom got the chance to play, because during the 
years he had the time, most tennis courts were segregated. Even after 
he became a leader of the Movement, he used to play basketball with 
the staff of SCLC, and he delighted in teaching our sons— to my 
despair sometimes. Occasionally, on rainy days, when Martin was in 
town and he happened to be at home, you could hear me saying over 
and over, "Martin, please don't play ball in the house." 

The boys and he would look at me with pitiful expressions, and 
my husband, quite logically, would ask, "Where else is there for us 
to play?" I never did think of a satisfactory answer for that question. 

Martin was always eager to work. When he was very young his 
family put a coal furnace in their house. He soon learned to fire it, to 
bank the fire at night, and get up early mornings to open the damper, 
put on the coal, and haul out the ashes. 

My husband learned about segregation early in his life. Some 
white children with whom he used to play lived near the King home 
in Atlanta. When Martin was six he went to the Negro elementary 
school, and his friends went to the white school. That was when 
their parents decided to draw the color line. Quite suddenly they told 
Martin he could not come to play anymore, "because we are white and 
you are colored. In tears he rushed home to his mother. She took him 

8 2 My Life with 

on her lap, and hecause he was so intelligent, she told him the story 
of his people. She explained about slavery and how, after it was ended, 
the white people still thought they were superior and kept apart from 
the Negroes, and how they made the segregation laws so that Negroes 
would still feel like slaves. She told him that this happened to our 
people every day of their lives. Mamma King ended with the Negro 
mother's old retrain, "You're just as good as anybody else." 

Another incident of early discrimination that Martin would recall 
was the time in his boyhood when a black fraternal organization, 
called the Elks, sponsored an oratorical contest in Valdosta, Georgia, 
a good distance from Atlanta. Martin traveled to the competition with 
his teacher, and he won the prize as second best orator. Naturally he 
and his teacher were feeling pretty good as they started back home, 
but their happiness was shortdived. Though there were seats on the 
bus to Atlanta, none happened to be in the Negro section, and the two 
of them were forced to stand for the long journey. Martin said the irony 
struck him then— that his prize meant nothing to white people, that 
because he was black, there would be no seat for him. 

Unlike many Negro boys and girls, Martin was very fortunate. 
The circumstances of his life protected him from the worst of the 
suffering of segregation and, most importantly, he had his father's 
example to guide him. Daddy King had fought Jim Crow from boy- 
hood on. He had a tremendous sense of his own dignity. "When I 
stand up," he said, "I want everyone to know that a man is standing 
there." He seldom rode in buses because Negroes were forced to ride 
in the back seats; but even before he could afford this luxury, he would 
say, "Even though the law may force me to ride in the hack, my mind 
is always up front." 

Daddy King was a leading figure in the local chapter ol the 
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the 
Atlanta Negro Voters 1 eague; and he was a member ol the Inter- 
racial Council of /Atlanta, which played a great part in keeping peace 
between the races ami ameliorating seme of the worst abuses of segre- 
gation. I le led the light to desegregate the elevators in the courthouse 
long before his son was old enough to join the struggle. One of his 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 8 3 

outstanding achievements was his fight to equalize salaries for black 
teachers, which he won. Later on, when Martin became involved in the 
national Movement, it was Daddy King who was most active in the 
Atlanta struggle. 

When he was a little boy, Martin had many opportunities to 
see his father in action. Once they went into an empty shoe store 
and sat down in the front seats. The clerk said politely, "If you will 
move to the back I'll be glad to help you." 

Daddy King's temper rose. "You will wait on us here or we won't 
buy any shoes." 

"I can't do it," the clerk said. 

Daddy King took Martin's hand and left the store. As they walked 
down the street, he rumbled in his deep voice, "I don't care how long 
I have to live with this thing, I'll never accept it. I'll fight it till I die. 
Nobody can make a slave out of you if you don't think like a slave." 

On another occasion, now well known, when Martin was riding 
in the car with his father, a policeman stopped them and said to 
Daddy King, "Boy, show me your license." 

Pointing at Martin, Daddy King said in his powerful voice, "Do 
you see this child here? He's a boy. I'm a man." 

Martin said the policeman was so shattered that his hand shook 
as he wrote out the ticket. 

Martin started his education at the nearby elementary school, but 
was soon transferred to Atlanta University's private laboratory 
school. Both of them were segregated, of course. In eighth grade he 
entered Booker T. Washington High School, with five thousand 
students, the only Negro high school in Atlanta at that time. There he 
skipped ninth grade and at the end of the eleventh grade took and 
passed the entrance examination for Morehouse College. However, 
Martin was always the first to point out the inadequacy of the educa 
tion he received in Atlanta's segregated schools. Even though he had 
special abilities and did not come from a "deprived" background, he 
entered Morehouse reading at an eighth grade level. Imagine what 
happened to many of the others, without Martin's advantages. 

8 4 My Life with 

Morehouse is one of the leading Negro colleges of the United 
States. Negro families who send their boys there feel about it as 
white families would feel about Harvard. It has a very high standard 
for qualification and an excellent course of study. Some of the out- 
standing men who have graduated from Morehouse or been associated 
with it are Mordecai Johnson, former president of Howard University, 
Benjamin Mays, George Kelsey, Professor of Christian Ethics at Drew 
University, Howard Thurman, former Dean of Marsh Chapel, Boston 
University, and Robert Johnson, publisher of Ebony and Jet. The tradi- 
tion has continued with Lerone Bennett, Julian Bond, and others. 
Martin matriculated there in 1944 at the age of fifteen. In later years 
he often talked about how important the college had been in his life. 
He was very anxious that our sons, Marty and Dexter, both should go 
to Morehouse when they were older. 

When Martin first went to Morehouse he intended to become a 
doctor or a lawyer. His interest in intellectual matters and his strong 
social consciousness, together with his normal vouthful rebellion 
against tradition, had decided him against the ministry. He was 
strongly motivated toward religion but was opposed to the emotion- 
alism of the church he knew, and he believed in a relevant social gos- 
pel which few ministers preached at that time. Even at that young 
age, Martin intended to dedicate his life to improving the condition 
of the black masses, but he thought he could do this more effectively 
in a profession outside the ministry. 

By the time he went to college Martin realized that he had led 
a far more protected life than most children. The Kings had a won 
derful family relationship, and all through his childhood Martin knew 
his parents would support him all the way. Whenever he had an as- 
sembly recitation to do in school, or was going to sing in the choir, 
or play football— anything— Mamma and Daddy King were sure to be 
in the audience rooting for him. Daddy King always Felt thai it was 
his duty to be present whenever one of his children was doing some 
thing special. II lie could not go, Mamma King would attend. 

Wiih his growing social consciousness, Martin wanted to [earn 
.a lust hand what life was like lor really underprivileged people "to 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 8 5 

learn their problems and feel their feelings." He was also anxious to 
pay some of his expenses on his own, rather than always having to 
call on his father. That year, instead of taking a summer job in one of 
the white-collar Negro businesses, he chose to do hard manual labor. 
He worked handling baggage for the Railway Express Agency, and 
he took another job on the loading platform of the Southern Bed- 
spring Mattress Company. The job was exhausting for him physically, 
and Daddy King wanted him to quit, but Martin persevered. In these 
jobs he not only became intimately acquainted with his fellow labor- 
ers, but he found out what it was like to work under white bosses. 
The foreman of the Railway Express Agency often addressed the 
black workers as "nigger," and at the mattress company Martin him- 
self suffered almost daily humiliation. 

In the summer of 1945 Martin went with several other Morehouse 
men to work in the tobacco fields of Connecticut. Though it was 
hardly a glamorous job, my husband would later talk of the exhilarat- 
ing sense of freedom he felt to be able to eat in any restaurant and to 
sit in the orchestra at the movies in Connecticut. Then, when the 
train on which he was coming home reached the southern states and 
he went to have a meal in the dining car, the waiter ushered him to 
a rear seat and pulled a curtain down in front of him. "I felt as though 
that curtain had dropped on my selfhood," Martin said. 

In Connecticut his friends asked Martin to lead their devotions. I 
think it was from this experience that he began to feel an insistent 
call to the ministrv. However, the decision that finally led to that path 
was largely due to the example of Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, the presi- 
dent of Morehouse College. In later years Martin often spoke of 
Dr. Mays as "my spiritual mentor." He was a graduate of Bates Col- 
lege and a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and had gone on to earn his 
Ph.D. and become president of Morehouse, the most prestigious posi- 
tion a Negro could hold in the academic world. 

Daddy King was a trustee of the college, and Dr. Mays was a 
close friend of his. From first to last, Dr. Mays took a great interest 
in Martin. It was not so much that he deliberately guided him toward 

8 6 My Life with 

the ministry as that he influenced Martin by his own example. 
For although Dr. Mays was brilliant, he was not removed from the 
heart of the people. In the pulpit he talked a great deal about social 
justice; you might say he preached a social gospel. This conformed 
exactly with Martin's ideas, and it helped to form them. Later, in his 
own ministry, he believed that helping people solve the problems 
they faced in their daily lives was as important as the salvation of their 

At Morehouse, listening to Dr. Mays preach, and also hearing an- 
other brilliant minister, Dr. George D. Kelsev, head of the theological 
department, Martin came to see that the ministry could be intellectu- 
ally respectable as well as emotionally satisfying. When he accepted 
this fact, it opened the way for him to go into the church. The bal- 
ance between mind and soul, intellect and emotion, was what he 
would strive to achieve. This was something he consciously worked at 
throughout his life. When he first started his ministry he leaned 
heavily on its theological aspect, for he was very self-conscious about 
anything that he considered too emotional. Later he learned to let 
himself go, to express high emotions in order to reach the people, and to 
inspire them, not only in church but also in the Movement he led. 

Martin was seventeen and finishing his junior year at college when 
he went to his father and told him that he felt the call to the ministry. 
Concealing his delight behind an air of doubt. Daddy King proposed 
that Martin should preach a trial sermon before a small congregation 
in one of the smaller auditoriums of Ebenezer. But when word got 
around that young M.L. was going to preach, so many people came 
that they had to move into the main sanctuary. 

The scene has been described to me so many times that 1 can 
almost see Martin looking so young and so innocently earnest that 
it was hard to believe he would have anything worthwhile to say. 
But as Dr. Mays said later, "The bov was mature beyond his years; 
he spoke as a man who should have had ten years' more experience. 
He had a balance and maturity . . . and a grasp ol life and its prob- 
lems that exceeded even that." 

I he sermon \\ .is .1 great success. Martin had inherited his lather's 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 8 7 

ability to preach, though he adopted a far more subdued style. His 
effort to demonstrate his ability, with obvious restraint, was compen- 
sated for by his youthful sincerity. Daddy King was bursting with 
pride, but he was humbly grateful to God. He tells of how he got 
down on his knees that night and thanked the Lord for giving him 
such a son. 

Martin took the call very seriously. His character seems to have 
undergone a real change. For quite a while he stopped dating girls 
and stopped going to dances. He stayed in his room and prayed and 
read the Bible most of the time. I think he felt he had to purge himself. 
As a normal young man, he had been trying to avoid the call; few 
people who understood the consequences would consciously want to 
lead this kind of life that requires so much of them. However, those 
who are drawn to the ministry have a higher motivation, an urge to 
serve humanity, which is reward in itself and more than compensates 
for the restrictions. 

A minister always has to be on guard morally, for he is on exhibi- 
tion, being judged all the time; he has very little freedom. Martin 
felt that to lead people requires that your own life must be an exam- 
ple to them. As an added factor, the Baptist discipline is very strict. 
For example, Martin went to a dance when he first started preaching, 
and Daddy King had him up before the whole church and made him 
apologize. Later on, by the time I met him, there was no evidence in 
Martin of any such restraint. He was so warm and fun-loving, with 
a delight in other people. Whatever inhibitions he had had when he 
was first called to the ministry had disappeared years before. 

In 1947, at the age of eighteen, my husband was ordained and 
made assistant pastor of Ebenezer Church. 

Martin graduated from Morehouse when he was only nineteen. 
I here was no question in anyone's mind that he should go on to study 
theology and get a Ph.D. He was accepted by Chicago Theological 
Seminary, Colgate, Andover Newton, and Crozer Theological Semi 
nary in Chester, Pennsylvania. Martin chose Crozer. When he told 
his father, Daddy King said, "You're mighty young to go to Crozer." 

8 8 My Life with 

But of course Martin was not mentally young, as Daddy King 
well knew; he was anxious about whether the competition would be 
too keen. There, again, is that wonderful relationship between father 
and son— the deep love, the respect and admiration each had for the 
other, and the fact that though Martin never abruptly forced an issue, 
he fought in his own way and always ended by convincing most 
people that he was taking the right course. He was a very persuasive 
man, and when he used his powers with his father, Daddy King also 
would succumb. And so Martin went to Crozer. 

When he got there, he really applied himself to his studies. Now 
he knew what he wanted to do with his life, and he was a serious 
student. At Morehouse he had not had the straight-A average he was 
to earn in his three years at Crozer. Perhaps the call had been standing 
in Martin's way, and now that his searching for it was over, he could 
move forward more surely. 

He was determined to get the best training possible for the min- 
istry, and this drove him to excel at school. He also had the energy 
and interest to attend lectures on philosophy at the University "I 
Pennsylvania and to do a great deal of outside reading, including the 
life and works of Mahatma Gandhi, which he then read for the first 
time. He also found time for some socializing with Negro young 
people in Philadelphia. That he was popular with his classmates is 
shown by the fact that he was elected president of the senior class at 
Crozer— the first black student ever to have won that honor. 

When Martin graduated in June, 1951, he won the Pearl Plafker 
Award as the most outstanding student and was awarded the J. I ew is 
Crozer Fellowship for graduate study. Both Martin and his father 
were determined that he would gel the lust training possible lor the 
ministrv and that it was essential for him to have a Ph.D. in order to 
accomplish this. 

lie applied to graduate school, and Vale and Boston University 
both accepted him. He those Boston University because he wanted to 
study under the proponents of the philosophy ol personalism, pro 
fessors Edgar S. Brightman and I . Harold DeWolf. 

And that was how Martin hail happened to be at Boston Uni 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 8 9 

versity in the fall of 1951 when I went East to study at the New 
England Conservatory of Music. 

In September, 1953, after our marriage, Martin and I went back 
to Boston, he to finish the residence requirements and write the thesis 
for his doctorate and I to finish my musical education at the conserva- 
tory. We rented an apartment in a verv old house right around the 
corner from the one Martin had when we were courting. It had four 
rooms— kitchen, bedroom, den, and living room. Martin worked on 
his research in the den and I studied in the bedroom, though in order 
not to bother Martin or the neighbors, I never practiced my singing 
at home but used the practice rooms at the conservatory. 

I had an extremely heavy schedule. It was my last year, and I was 
taking thirteen courses to finish the requirements for my degree. My 
degree was to be in music education, with a major in voice. My second 
instrument was violin, but in order to qualify to teach music, I had to 
run the whole gamut: voice, piano, choir-directing, orchestral arrange- 
ment and directing, and four instrumental classes— percussion, strings, 
woodwinds, and brass. I was not required to have the proficiency 
of a performer in all these instruments. The idea was to get enough ex- 
perience with the different categories so that one knew the theory of 
each and could teach them. 

Just having that many classes and also finding time to practice 
all those instruments meant a tremendous push that last year in Bos- 
ton. Then, in my second semester, I did practice teaching at one high 
school and two elementary schools. My pupils were white, but though 
I was the first Negro in this situation, the children accepted me read- 
ily. I was very pleased when the principal of one of the schools, a 
reserved but nice New England woman, told my supervisor how suc- 
cessful I had been in getting the children to respond and participate 
in the music program. 

I also sang in several recitals that year. In the spring I was fea- 
tured in the premiere performance of the Cuban composer Amadeo 
Roldan's Motivos de Son, with the conservatory orchestra. Most of it 
was percussion, very modern and difficult to sing. I was happy to be 

9 My Life with 

chosen for the role, but for a new bride it was a very heavy schedule. 
I consoled myself with the thought that after our schooling was over, 
we would settle into a less hectic routine. Little did I know! 

Martin was working very hard too. In addition to his studies and 
research, he often preached at the churches in and around Boston. 
He must have been growing into a more powerful speaker all the 
time, because his reputation as "a remarkable young man" is still re- 
membered in the Boston area. Though he did a large part of his work 
in the university library, most of the time he was at home studying. 
Because I was so busy, Martin was wonderful about doing the house- 
work. He did all the heavy cleaning and even the washing. We had 
a tub in the kitchen where I would put the clothes to soak. Then my 
husband would wash them when he took a break from his studies. 
Martin did the best he could, but he generally was unsuccessful. When 
we put the clothes up on the kitchen lines to dry, though I never told 
him, they looked like the "before" on TV commercials. I was very 
appreciative, but I would wish to myself that he had let me do 
the job. 

On Saturdays we did the weekly shopping for groceries together, 
and Thursday was Martin's night to cook, because I had a six-o'clock 
class. He had learned to cook when he had the apartment with Philip 
Lenud, and was quite proud of his abilitv. In addition to smothered 
cabbage, he cooked pork chops, fried chicken, pigs' feet, pigs' snout, 
and pigs' ears. I never liked pigs' ears, but Martin liked them be- 
cause—his father's son— he said, "They're good and they're cheap." 

He would also cook turnip greens, southern style, with ham hocks 
and bacon drippings, and of course cornbread, though we cheated on 
that by buying a mix. As is apparent, we liked soul food— highly sea- 
soned, overcooked, and delicious southern cooking. Though over the 
years as we traveled more, other foods were added to our menu, Mar- 
tin always loved southern cooking best. Sometimes you might drop 
into the pastor's study at Ebenezer, and there would be my husband 
gnawing at a pig's foot while the delighted parishioner who had 
brought him a jar of her specialty sat proudly watching his enjoyment. 
Dear Martin! I le always complained that our cooking was too fattening. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 9 1 

yet it was exactly what he loved, and with a plate of greens before him, 
he never could remember his diet. 

Though Martin helped so much in the house the first year we 
were married, all the domestic work did not make him self-conscious. 
He was too sure of his manhood. One of the difficulties American 
black men must face is that the whole social system beats down upon 
them harder than on the women. It is more difficult even now for 
them to find good jobs than it is for their women. The men are re- 
garded with more suspicion and with more fear by whites. In that 
period especially, any assertion of black manhood was regarded 
by the ruling class as dangerous and was quickly put down, some- 
times—in the South, at least— with a rope around the neck. With this 
background, it has been difficult, until very recently, for black men 
to take their natural place as the head of the household and the pro- 
tector of their families. Where black men have had to turn away from 
their responsibilities, it has been because of the remorseless pressure 
of a hostile society, not because of any innate character fault. 

Martin had none of these inhibitions nor any of the psychological 
insecurities that seem to beset so many men in white America. He 
always made me feel like a real woman because he was a real man in 
every respect. After we were married he said, "I want my wife to 
respect me as the head of the family. I am the head of the family." 

We laughed together at that slightly pompous speech, and he 
backed down. "Of course, I don't really mean that," he said. "I think 
marriage should be a shared relationship." 

But he really did mean it. That was an adjustment I had to make, 
and I believe I made it very well. At the same time he encouraged 
me to express myself, he did not like the idea of my working. He 
wanted the major responsibility. He said, "I'm supposed to earn 
enough money to take care of you and the family." He was willing 
to have me teach or to give concerts if I wanted to so I could be inde- 
pendent. In fact, I did work over the years, and later, when he was 
involved in the struggle, the money I earned was a big help. I always 
said that if I had not married a strong man, I would have "worn the 
pants." Martin was such a very strong man, there was never any 

9 2 My Life with 

chance for that to happen. He had such strength that he imparted 
this quality not only to me but also to other people who met him. 
This was particularly true of other men, who seemed to derive strength 
from their association with him and were drawn to him for it. 

Of course, Martin achieved great public renown and respect, but 
in private also he was always the kind of man whom I, as a woman, 
could look up to and respect. 

In addition to Martin's course at Boston University, he took a 
course on Plato at Harvard from Dr. Raphael Demos and studied the 
modern existentialist philosophers— Jean-Paul Sartre, Karl Jaspers, 
Martin Heidegger. Though he rejected their despair and godlessness, 
he later wrote that the greatest contribution of existentialism was "its 
perception of the anxiety and conflict produced in man's personal and 
social life by the perilous and ambiguous structure of existence." 

Yet these studies were side excursions. My husband was whole- 
heartedly committed to the philosophy of personalism of which Boston 
University was the center and Dr. Brightman the chief exponent. 
When Dr. Brightman died in 1953, Dr. L. Harold DeWolf became 
Martin's mentor. Personalism appealed to Martin because of its em- 
phasis on the individual. It holds, as Martin put it, "that the clue to 
the meaning of ultimate reality is found in personality." Long years 
after he left Boston he wrote, "This personal idealism remains today 
my basic philosophical position. Personalism's insistence that only per- 
sonality—finite and infinite— is ultimately real, strengthened me in two 
convictions; it gave me metaphysical and philosophical grounding for 
the idea of a personal God, and it gave me a metaphvsical basis for my 
belief in the dignity and worth of all human personality." 

For his doctoral thesis, Martin chose to write: A Comparison of 
the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry 
Nelson Wieman. This was an interesting exercise, because Martin 
did not agree with cither of their conceptions of God. Martin believed 
all his life that God is both infinite and personal— a loving Father who 
strives for good against the evil that exists in the universe. 1 le believed, 
as I do, that we who dedicate ourselves to God are I lis instruments in 
that glorious struggle. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 9 3 

With all our hard work and high thinking, you might suppose 
that the first year oF our married life was rather grim and that we 
had little time for gaiety. You might think that— if you did not know 
Martin. True, we did not have much free time, but we made the most 
of every precious second. 

I remember that in the early summer of 1954 my mother came 
to visit me in Boston for my graduation. We went out to an amuse- 
ment park at the beach where they had all the hair-raising rides, 
rollercoasters, a Ferris wheel, and a rollerskating rink. Martin rode 
them all, and he and Philip Lenud rollerskated until they were ready 
to drop, laughing and roughhousing and doing fancy turns and gyra- 

My husband had preached that Sunday morning, and Mother had 
been tremendously impressed with his sermon. Now he was having 
so much fun that she could hardly believe that it was the same serious- 
minded young man who had spoken so wisely and well a few hours 
before. "You know," she said to him, "you act like you are about four 
years old." 

But that was the way he was all his life— playful— even to the very 
last day. In the midst of the most serious times, Martin would bring 
fun into our lives with his ability to see the humor in even the most 
difficult situations. 

As it had been before we were married, our social life in Boston 
was still mostly among other southern blacks who were studying at 
the various colleges and universities. Negroes were isolated, which 
is why "integration" was so superficial in the Boston community. The 
neighborhood we had lived in before, and still were part of, was al- 
most completely black, and though the centers of learning were at 
least nominally integrated, they were so big and impersonal that no 
special effort was made to bring Negroes into campus activities. 

I his isolation was partly due to the fact that in Boston there is a 
kind ol coldness, a formality, that is so different from the South. Not 
that we ever spent time with white southerners, but among their 
own kind, at least, southerners seem more openhcartcd and hos- 

9 4 My Life with 

pitable. Martin and I realized that there was a possibility of mingling 
with whites if we wanted to make the effort. But it would have been 
an effort, because at that time the social climate was not sufficiently 
permissive for blacks and whites to feel comfortable enough to be 
together naturally, without effort. 

Yet, one of the most interesting activities of our Boston days was 
the Philosophy Club, which met every Friday evening. A member 
would read a paper at each meeting, followed by a general discussion 
of the subject and criticism of the paper, which its author would de- 
fend. Martin had begun taking me to the meetings when we were 
courting. At first the club was all black, but as word of the brilliant 
discussions spread, a few whites dropped in to take part. 

In the winter of 1954 Martin had almost completed the residence 
requirements for his degree and was well into his thesis. He began 
looking for a pastorate which would not only be personally rewarding, 
but would give him an opportunity to work toward improving the con- 
ditions of the black masses. He had several good offers. Two northern 
and two southern churches were interested in talking with him. In 
addition, he was offered a deanship in a small college and teaching 
jobs in two others. Martin and I both would have enjoyed living in 
an academic atmosphere, but this did not coincide with Martin's 
commitment to work for his people. Someday, he thought, he would 
like to teach and preach in a college part-time. As a matter of fact, 
throughout the years, Martin would occasionally dream out loud about 
taking a few hours a week to teach in a quiet university, where he 
would have time to think instead of hurtling from one action to an- 

However, the ministry was his dominant interest, and we had to 
decide which church positions Martin should seriously consider. I lere 
we disagreed. I wanted to go back south someday— it was our home, 
and we loved it— but not yet. Selfishly, perhaps, I wanted to breathe 
the freer air and the richer cultural life of the north a while longer 
and to enjoy the greater opportunities a northern city would give me 
for furthering my musical career. But our lives did not permit that 
luxury. Martin seemed to have the need to get on with his destiny. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 9 5 

He felt that he should go south immediately. His intense dedication 
compelled him toward the harder rather than the easier solution. He 
had warned me of this long ago during our courtship, and now he 
said to me, "I am going back south. I am going to live in the South 
because that is where I am needed." 

Though Martin's interest was broad enough to include all under- 
privileged peoples, whatever their race, he most certainly felt that 
his place was as pastor of a Negro church in the South. He wanted 
this because it would bring him into close contact with the people to 
whom he wanted to devote his life. For several days we thought and 
talked and prayed over this decision. Eventually I bowed to his wish 
without any great struggle, for when we married I knew that where 
he went, I would go. 

Through the intercession of T.M. Alexander, Sr., of Atlanta, a 
friend of the King family, Martin was invited to preach by the Dexter 
Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, which was then 
looking for a new minister to replace Dr. Vernon Johns, who had just 

Dr. Johns has since died, but at that time he was in his fifties. 
My husband and Ralph Abernathy could sit for hours swapping 
s f ories about this outspoken minister who always gave his middle- 
class congregation a very hard time. According to Martin, Dr. Johns' 
main purpose was to rock the complacency of the refined mem- 
bers of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church— in whatever way he 

One time Dr. Johns was performing a very staid and elegant wed- 
ding ceremony for one of the most outstanding Negro families in 
Montgomery. The church wedding had been proceeding, but just 
before the marriage was final, the minister stopped. He peered up 
and said, "I would like to announce that right after the wedding there 
will be a watermelon cutting in the church basement. It will be 
twenty-five cents a slice, and for all you economical-minded people 
who order half a melon, the price will be a dollar fifty." Then, with- 
out stopping for a minute, Dr. Johns continued, "I now pronounce 
you man and wile." (Martin was a wonderful mimic, and when he 

9 6 My Life with 

would tell this story, you could just hear Dr. Johns' thick Virginia 

Though the congregation admired Dr. Johns' courage in civil- 
rights matters, as well as his intelligence, they eventually came to a 
parting of the ways. 

In January Martin was invited to the Dexter Avenue Baptist 
Church to preach a trial sermon. Martin has said he was rather nerv- 
ous about being called to preach, in spite of three summers of expe- 
rience at Ebenezer. But he told himself with sensible humor, "Keep 
Martin Luther King in the background and God in the foreground 
and everything will be all right. Remember you're a channel of the 
gospel, not the source." 

Martin preached, and the congregation of Dexter was enchanted 
that so young a man could show such wisdom and profundity of 
thought; from that hour they wanted him. 

Martin did not make up his mind immediately. He traveled to 
Detroit and to Chattanooga, where he preached other sermons. But 
he was strongly inclined toward Dexter. The fact that the congrega- 
tion was intelligent and unaccustomed to the florid emotionalism that 
many Baptists like was, for Martin, a point in its favor. So also was 
the age and dignity of the church itself. 

I must admit that, at first, I was not enthusiastic about the pros- 
pect. Having come from a town in .Alabama only about eighty miles 
from Montgomery, I knew the situation there only too well. I knew, 
from my own life, that in this city, living in its memories of its glory 
as the first capital of the Confederacy, the stifling hood of segregation 
at its worst soon would drop over us. I also felt that Montgomery 
would offer me little opportunity or challenge in pursuing my musical 

In Martin's mind there was only one serious objection to Dexter. 
He had heard that Walter McCall, who had been his classmate at 
Morehouse and his best friend at Crozer, had also preached a sermon 
there. Though Martin wanted the job, his loyalty to a friend forbade 
his taking a position Mae might want. However, when he called 
Mae, his friend assured him iliat he wanted to Stay in teaching lor 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 9 7 

a while and was not in competition for the position. Later, Mac be- 
came pastor of a church in Atlanta and joined the struggle for freedom. 

Martin went back to Montgomery in April to settle the final details 
with the deacons of Dexter. On his return to Boston he told me that 
everything was highly satisfactory and that he was more enthusiastic 
than ever. So it was settled that he would become the pastor of the 
Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, starting on the first Sunday in Sep- 
tember, 1954. However, since the church was temporarily without a 
minister, my husband promised to preach there frequently, beginning 
in May. He virtually commuted between Boston and Montgomery all 
that summer. 

Though I had been opposed to going to Montgomery, I realize 
now that it was an inevitable part of a greater plan for our lives. Even 
in 1954 I felt that my husband was being prepared— and I too— for a 
special role about which we would learn more later. Each experience 
that we had was preparation for the next one. Being in Montgomery 
was like a drama that was unfolding. Martin and I and the people of 
that small southern city were like actors in a play, the end of which 
we had not yet read. Yet we felt a sense of destiny, of being propelled 
in a certain positive direction. We had the feeling that we were allow- 
ing ourselves to be the instruments of God's creative will. 

As Martin was being made ready to be the leader and the symbol 
of the Negro Movement, so I was being prepared to be his wife and 
helpmate. It was in Montgomery that I became aware of the contribu- 
tion I could make in sustaining and helping my husband in what was 
to come. 



first saw the Dexter Avenue 
Baptist Church on the first Sunday of July, 1954. After graduating 
from the conservatory I had gone to stay with Mamma and Daddy 
King in Atlanta while Martin remained in Boston to finish his disser- 
tation. That July weekend, on his trip to Montgomery, he took me 
with him to meet his new congregation. 

Dexter was a fine, solid, Victorian brick church, standing on Mont 
gomery's handsome public square. Right across Dexter Avenue was 
the Supreme Court Building, and diagonally across the square stood 
Alabama's State Capitol, with its classic dome and the pillared portico 
where Jefferson Davis took the oath of office as President ol the Con- 
federate States of America. 

The "official" white southern square was an odd place lor a Negro 
church, but Dexter had been built in Reconstruction days, when 
Negroes were enjoying their brief freedom after the Civil War. At 
ihat time blacks owned various other properties in downtown Mont- 
gomery, but they were all eventually pushed out. Onlv Dexter re- 


mained, a kind of symbol of Negro aspirations to its congregation, 
all of whom now lived a long way off in segregated areas. Most of 
them came to church in automobiles; a few came in the segregated 
buses. It was a considerable inconvenience, but they were proud of 
their church and accepted its inconvenience gladly. 

Dexter was not as large as Ebenezer. It seated only four hundred 
people, as compared to Ebenezer's seven hundred. Its congregation 
was small, but it was definitely affluent. Most of the members were 
college-trained; many held advanced degrees. There were physicians, 
teachers, college professors, and prosperous business people in the con- 
gregation. Poorer Negroes in Montgomery referred to it as "the big 
people's church." 

In fact, in spite of Dr. Johns' prodding their consciences, the con- 
gregation did not encourage mass participation in the services, nor 
did it make anv attempt to attract people "off the streets." Of course, 
my husband's idea was that the church should welcome all people 
and that the ideal of Christian worship was people of all classes par- 
ticipating in it together. Soon after he came to the church, he became 
known throughout the black community as the "friendly pastor." 

That first Sunday, Martin warned me that he would call upon me 
to speak. I prepared a speech but did not write it out, as I wanted it 
to seem spontaneous. At the time visitors were being welcomed, some 
other newcomers were introduced. Then Martin said, "I am going to 
ask Mrs. King to sav a few words to the congregation." 

I cannot remember exactly what I said, but I tried to tell the mem- 
bers how pleased I was that they had called my husband to be their 
pastor and that I looked forward to living in their community and 
working with them. I told them this would be a new experience for 
me, and I asked their prayers to help me to become a good minister's 

I seemed to have made a good impression, and when I met them 
alter church, many spoke ol how happy they would be when we came 
to Montgomery permanently in September. Some people commented 
on how young I looked. 

I hat was a curious thing. Though Martin was only twenty -five, 

10 My Life with 

such was the force of his personality and the wisdom of his words 
that they did not think of him as young once they heard him speak. 
When someone said, "Doctor King has such a young wife," I an- 
swered, "Well, my husband is a young man." 

I remember a little later Professor Mary Fair Burks, of Alabama 
State College, came to Dexter with Jo Ann Robinson, who was 
also a professor at the college. When she saw Martin, Professor Burks 
said, "You mean that little boy is my pastor? He looks like he ought 
to be home with his mamma." She thought he could not possibly have 
anything to say that would interest her, but when she heard him she 
was deeply impressed. As the vears went by, my husband's power as 
a speaker grew and grew. Hearing Martin speak when he was inspired 
could change your whole life. 

That first Sunday, the people of Dexter took us to see the par- 
sonage. It was at 309 South Jackson Street, sixteen blocks from the 
church— in a segregated neighborhood. Our house was basically very 
nice but was run-down. It was a white frame structure with seven big 
rooms and a porch that later became rather famous. The church mem- 
bers said they would redecorate and furnish the house to suit our 
taste, but of course we did not want anything elaborate. The furniture 
was of varied style, but very comfortable, and anything we thought 
we needed, they gave us. We always tried to keep our wishes under 

After that meeting with the church members, and after seeing 
the church and the house, my apprehensions were much relieved. I 
felt that Dexter was the kind of church where I could be comfortable 
and really useful. I had been concerned for fear I would not be able to 
do much in the church— not that I aimed to be an important leader, but 
I wanted to be a part of things. I went back to Atlanta convinced that 
I would be, though I had no idea of just what that involvement would 

Martin had told me, after his first few visits, "I like this church. 
This is where 1 want to begin my ministry." Now that 1 had seen 
Dexter, it was my turn, and I said, "If this is what you want, I'll make 
myself happy in Montgomery. You will perfect your preaching and 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 10 1 

improve yourself in the ministry at Dexter, and I will learn to be a 
good minister's wife." 

I seem to have known then, too, that though being pastor of 
the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church was very important, Martin's 
special qualities and special training were going to take him beyond 
this point and that this experience at Dexter would be— for both of 
us— another step toward our destiny. 

Yet, the next fifteen months were the most serene and un- 
complicated we ever had. In September, 1954, Martin officially took 
up his pastorate, and we moved into the parsonage. We were on our 
own and we were very busy. In October we took two weeks off 
to go to Boston so that Martin could finish the first draft of his dis- 
sertation and present it to Boston University. I remember Martin 
explaining to the congregation, much to my embarrassment, that we 
had to go by train because his wife was afraid to fly— I soon had 
to get over that fear. In Boston I was strongly tempted to see all 
our old friends, but instead I stuck to our hotel room all day and 
half the night, retyping Martin's dissertation. It ran nearly 350 

In Montgomery, Martin's schedule, from the start, was very 
crowded. He got up at five-thirty every morning to work for three 
hours on his dissertation, and after dinner he worked on it for three 
hours more. During the day he was occupied with church duties- 
counseling, marriages, funerals— comforting sick parishioners, and 
gradually getting around to call on every one of Dexter's three hundred 
members. In addition, he attended between five and ten committee 
meetings a week. 

I, too, was very busy. I acted as Martin's secretary and became 
a member of various committees. I also sang in the choir. Though I 
was not especially singled out, I was the only member who had 
intensive musical training, so I helped as much as I could to make 
it the finest choir in Montgomery. Sometimes I sang the solo parts of 
anthems or oratorios and, of course, that took preparation. In addition, 
I was rehearsing for two or three concerts I had been asked to give 

10 2 My Life with 

in other cities, and I had my main job— keeping house for Martin. 

When we came to Dexter, there was far too little church activity 
among the members to suit Martin. There was only the Sunday 
school; the Baptist Training Union, designed to develop Christian 
leadership; and the Missionary Society. During the first autumn 
Martin worked out a series of new programs to be presented to the 
board of deacons at their January meeting. In his first annual report 
he recommended a committee to revitalize religious education, a social 
and political action committee to take part in the struggle for Negro 
rights, a committee to raise and administer scholarship funds for 
high school graduates, and a cultural committee to give encourage- 
ment to promising young Negro artists. In addition, he proposed to 
reorganize the church finances on the lines that had been so suc- 
cessful at Ebenezer. (This plan resulted in a threefold increase in 
church income during his first year.) Martin also wanted to try to 
broaden the church membership to include less affluent Negroes who 
had been frightened off in the past by the high-toned reputation of 

This was an ambitious program for a new and very young minis- 
ter to attempt in an old, well established church. The deacons of 
Dexter had the reputation of running the church themselves and 
really being quite harsh with their ministers. An old friend of Martin's 
father had warned him about this. He knew about Dexter because 
he had once pastored another church in Montgomery. "Mike," he 
said, "there's one man on the board at Dexter to watch out for. He 
may be dead by now, but if he is still alive, don't you go there, be- 
cause he'll give you hell." 

Well, this very man was now chairman ol the deacon board, and 
my husband came to Montgomery prepared for trouble with him and 
the older deacons. He was determined, though, and he said to me, 
"I'm going to be pastor and I'm going to run that church." 

As it turned out, there was no problem. When the deacons saw 
how well trained Martin had been by his studies and by his experience 
at Ebenezer, they accepted his ambitious program with enthusiasm. 
They and the congregation gave him splendid cooperation: it was 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 10 3 

completely smooth sailing for all the time we were there. They 
were always generous and understanding to us, beyond anything we 
had any right to expect. 

Perhaps the most important part of Martin's busy schedule was the 
fifteen hours a week he spent, in those early days, preparing his 
sermons. He would start Tuesday and work off and on until Saturday 
night, first writing his sermon out completely, then memorizing it. 
On Sunday morning, he would stand up in the pulpit and preach 
without a manuscript. The congregation always marveled that he 
could speak, apparently extemporaneously, for thirty-five or forty 

Later on, when the tremendous pressure of his leadership of the 
bus boycott gave him no time to write his sermons out, they really 
were extemporaneous. He would get ideas and discuss them with me. 
He would say, "I've been thinking of such and such a thing for next 
Sunday." He would outline his points to me, and we'd talk them over. 
Sometimes he incorporated my suggestions into the sermon. I realized, 
then, that he really did think that my ideas were important. This 
made me feel very good. Then he would prepare an outline of his 
three or four main topics and would preach from that. It was very 
good training for him; in his later years he almost always preached 
from an outline. 

In church I would listen carefully, and if I felt something was not 
quite clear or well stated, I would comment to Martin afterward on 
that. I would also describe the congregation's reactions to him. I was 
proud of Martin as he stood upon the pulpit, yet I tried to be objective 
enough to try to be of help to him. Martin used to say that I was his 
best critic. 

Some of Martin's most inspiring sermons were given at Dexter. 
They usually had a social message as well as a religious one, because 
of my husband's belief that a minister should also be a leader in 
social progress. I remember one occasion, some years later, when he 
said to me, "I'm going to preach on Sunday about how you deal 
with the problem of fear." In the South that was one of our greatest 
problems. Racists, and groups like the Ku Klux Klan, and even the 

10 4 My Life with 

police used fear as their weapon to keep the Negroes down. We talked 
it over, and he wrote out an outline. That sermon, called "Antidotes 
for Fear," was later thought to be one of his best sermons. 

Martin took as his text I John 4:18, "There is no fear in love; 
but perfect love casteth out fear; because fear hath torment. He that 
feareth is not made perfect in love." 

First Martin spoke of the many kinds of fear that troubled men 
and women in this period of change and "calamitous uncertainty"— 
fear of illness or economic disaster, fear of personal inadequacy in 
our highly competitive society. More terrible was the fear of death, 
even racial annihilation, in this atomic age, when the whole world 
teetered on "a balance of terror . . . fearful lest some diplomatic 
faux pas ignite a frightful holocaust." 

"Some fears are normal and necessary," he said, like the fear of 
snakes in a jungle, but when they become neurotic and unchecked, 
they paralyze the will and reduce a man to apathy or despair. He 
quoted Emerson, who wrote, "He has not learned the lesson of life 
who does not every day surmount a fear." 

How, then, to overcome fear? First, Martin said, "We must un- 
flinchingly face our fears . . . this confrontation will, to some 
measure, grant us power. . . . 

"Second, we can master fear through one of the supreme virtues 
known to man— courage . . . courage is the power of the mind to 
overcome fear. 

"Thirdly," Martin said, "fear is mastered by love. . . . The kind 
of love that led Christ to a cross and kept Paul unembittered amid 
the angry torrents of persecution is not soft, anemic, and sentimental. 
Such love confronts evil without flinching." 

Then Martin showed how hatred between races and nations is 
rooted in fear; that most wars are caused not bv hatred but by tear. 
Racial injustice in America, Martin said, was caused by the white 
people's fear of the Negro's advancing status. And he said, "If our 
white brothers are to master fear, they must depend not only on 
their commitment to Christian love, hut also on the Christlikc love 
which the Negro generates toward them. . . . The Negro man must 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 10 5 

convince the white man that he seeks justice for both himself and 
the white man." 

Finally, Martin said, "Fear is mastered by faith. Without faith 
we are orphans cast into the terrifying immensities of space in a 
universe that is without purpose or intelligence. 

"But though death is inevitable, we do not fear it. The God who 
brought our whirling planet from primal vapor and has led the human 
pilgrimage for these many centuries can most assuredly lead us 
through death's dark night into the bright daybreak of eternal life. 
His will is too perfect and His purposes are too extensive to be 
confined in the limited receptacle of time and the narrow walls of 
earth. Death is not the ultimate evil; the ultimate evil is to be out- 
side God's love. We need not join the mad rush to purchase an 
earthly lallout shelter. God is our eternal fallout shelter. . . ." 

That sermon, spoken from the short outline Martin had made, 
was an expression of my husband's courage, his love, and his faith. 
Throughout his brief remaining years he was to need all three. 

Among the new friends we made in Montgomery, one couple 
became very close to us, the Ralph Abernathys. Ralph Abernathy, 
pastor of the First Baptist Church, was a young man as ardent as 
Martin for social reform. Before Martin made the decision to accept 
the call to Dexter, he had gone to see Ralph, to find out how another 
young minister was faring in Montgomery. Ralph had encouraged 
Martin to come, though I sometimes think that was because the 
two of them became friends instantly, and Ralph liked the idea of 
having Martin to talk to in Montgomery. 

1 here is very little gaiety for a young minister in a small southern 
city, and the evenings we spent with Juanita and Ralph Abernathy 
were times of happy relaxation. Later, of course, Ralph became my 
husband's best friend and close colleague in the Civil Rights Move- 

Many of the church members also became our close friends, in- 
cluding Mr. and Mrs. Joseph T. Brooks, long-time friends ol the 
King family- He was the organist at Dexter, and his love of music 

10 6 My Life with 

made a close bond between us. Joe's home was furnished in exquisite 
taste; he was an aristocrat in the best sense of the word. Later we 
would smile at the picture of this most refined man playing at mass 
rallies in a setting he surely never envisioned for himself. Before we 
moved into the parsonage we spent our first night in Montgomery 
with the Brookses, and we would stay with them again on a terror- 
haunted night. 

The spring of 1955 was especially joyful for us. Martin was 
awarded his degree of Doctor of Philosophy in systematic theology. 
Twenty-one years of intensive study had reached a culmination— 
though not an ending, for Martin continued to study all his life. 

That spring I discovered that I was pregnant. Martin was, if 
anything, happier about this than about his degree. From the time he 
was very young he had talked about getting married and having a 
family. We were both excited and happy, especially because, at one 
point, there was some question about whether or not we could have 
children. Martin often talked about how he loved children and said 
that if we could not have any, we would adopt some. Now our 
marriage was complete. Rather excitedly, he said he wanted to have 
eight children. I did not agree with that! After thinking it over I 
said, "We'll compromise and have four"— and we did. 

During my pregnancy Martin was very attentive and concerned. 
We were both a little anxious for fear something would go wrong, 
but I suppose you always have these anxieties about the first one, 
especially when the child is wanted so much. Martin wanted a boy 
first. He always referred to the unborn baby as his son. "My son," 
he would say, "I want my son to be named Martin Luther, III." 

In November I went to St. Jude's Hospital to have my baby. It 
was a Catholic hospital, of course, and was unusual because it was 
the only hospital in Montgomery where Negroes could be treated 
decently. Then, though normally St. Jude's kept whites and blacks 
separated, if the hospital became overcrowded they would be put 
together, particularly in the maternity ward. 

Our baby was born on November 17, 1954. She was a big healthy 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 10 7 

girl weighing nine pounds, eleven and one half ounces. It turned out, 
as it usually does, that Martin did not at all mind not having a son. 
She was such a lovable child; she was very close to his heart. 

From the beginning she was large physically, and also seemed 
very advanced. Eight or nine days after I came home, I said to Martin, 
"You know, we are going to have to be very careful with this child. 
I think she is going to be a very sensitive person." She had such an 
awareness, even as a tiny infant, that I had that feeling, and sensitive 
and intelligent she has turned out to be. 

I chose the name Yolanda Denise, but my husband had reserva- 
tions about it. He questioned whether people would call her Yolanda 
or would mispronounce the name. He was right. Her name is so 
frequently mispronounced that it bothers her. 

There is a tendency among middle-class Negroes to give their 
children unusual names. Perhaps they are seeking elegance or some 
special identification. I fell victim to this custom, rather than follow- 
ing the sensible practice of naming the baby after a member of the 
family. Later Martin said, "If we ever have another baby girl, I'm 
going to give her a simple name like Mary Jane." 

When we did have another daughter, we called her Bernice 
Albertine, after her two grandmothers. Not quite Mary Jane, but at 
least named for members of the family. In any case, she is known as 
Bunny, and Yolanda is called Yoki. 

Martin always said that Yoki came at a time in his life when he 
needed something to take his mind off the tremendous pressures that 
bore down upon him. When he came home from the stress and 
turmoil that he was suddenly plunged into, the baby was there cooing 
and cuddly and trustful and loving. There is something renewing 
about a small child— something he needed very much, because less 
than three weeks after Yoki was born, a seamstress named Rosa Parks 
refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, and the Movement 
was born. 



J. here is a spirit and a need and a 
man at the beginning of every great human advance. Each of these 
must be right for that particular moment of history, or nothing happens. 
In Montgomery, what Martin called the Zeitgeist, or the spirit of the 
time, was there under the apparent passivity of the Negro people; 
the hour had struck, and the man was found. Yet what was done 
there could not have happened without a buildup of forces and an 
accumulation of suffering. 

You could say that the modern Movement toward black freedom 
and equality really began immediately after World War II. For 
long years, "the slow fire of discontent"— Martin's phrase— had burned 
almost unnoticed under the crust of apparent peace imposed by a 
predominantly white society, not just in America, but all over the 
world; not just among Negroes, but among Asians and all the other 
exploited races of mankind. The stresses and upheavals of a world- 
wide war cracked the power-imposed, smooth surface of society; the 
steam began to hiss through the vents all over the world; and the 
conscience of humanity began to stir. 

1 09 

In America, one of the first steps toward racial justice was taken 
on December 5, 1946, when President Harry S. Truman appointed 
a group of distinguished citizens as members of the President's Com- 
mittee on Civil Rights. Almost a year later, after many hearings and 
statistical studies, the committee brought in a report on: "Wherein 
and to what extent we are presently failing to live up to the American 
ideal," and it made a series of far-ranging recommendations as to 
what should be done to secure these rights for every American. Even 
to this day, at least half of these recommendations have not been effec- 
tively acted upon. 

However, things did begin to move, though with agonizing slow- 
ness. The American armed services were integrated, for example, 
and there were other minor advances— and a lot of oratory- Public 
opinion became aroused. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world 
subjected people were breaking the colonial yoke. In India, Africa, 
Southeast Asia, and the East Indies, nonwhite people were winning 
independence. American Negroes noted and cheered these events. 

The next big breakthrough in the United States came on May 
17, 1954. Martin was working on his thesis in Boston when the 
Supreme Court reversed its ancient opinion that separate but equal 
educational facilities met the requirements of the Fourteenth Amend- 
ment to the Constitution. In a case brought by the attorneys of the 
Legal Defense Fund of the NAACP, Brown v. Board of Education of 
Topeka, Kansas, it declared forthrightly that, "Separate educational 
facilities are inherently unequal." Any Negro could have told them 
that long ago! 

In 1955 the Court followed this decision with another, ordering 
public educational facilities in the United States to be desegregated 
"with all deliberate speed"— an unfortunate phrase that slowed the 
process up. A further decision of the same court, upholding the 
"pupil placement" laws, allowed manipulation of the Supreme Court 
decision by southern school authorities. 

Of course there were violent reactions in the South. Citizens 
Councils sprang up in an attempt to nullify the Court's decisions, and 
the Ku Klux Klan got out its sheets and hoods and paraded and set 

110 My Life with 

crosses afire. We used to joke in those days about which of our 
friendly neighborhood grocers or dry cleaners was a Klansman 
or a member of the White Citizens Council. As a matter of fact, 
we did learn that some of these tradesmen were involved in the 

From the time he came to Montgomery, Martin had followed 
his commitment to work against all forms of segregation. The 
Political Action Committee he founded at Dexter was one instrument. 
In addition, he became very active in the local chapter of the 
NAACP, and he joined the Montgomery branch of the Alabama 
Council on Human Relations, the only integrated group in Mont- 
gomery, whose president was a young white minister, the Reverend 
Ray Wadlev. 

Martin's efforts to arouse Montgomery Negroes to action were 
severely hampered, not alone by the white people's opposition, but 
by the state of the black community itself, which was sharply divided 
by class, education, and organization. In addition to the NAACP 
and the Human Relations council, there were three other civil-rights 
committees, all jealous of one another. Add to that the facts that manv 
of the leading black intellectuals were afraid to move for fear of 
losing their jobs, many ministers hesitated to mix theology and 
politics, and the great masses of Negroes had not yet found the 
effective means to express their discontent in action. 

1 hough nothing dramatic happened for a while after the Supreme 
Court decisions, the very fact that the decisions had been made gave 
black people hope. 

In November, 1955, Martin was asked to assume the presidency 
of the local NAACP. He was strongly tempted to do so. Mamma King 
was with us at the time, helping me with our new baby, and her 
advice and mine was that Martin should not accept the job. I pointed 
out that he had spent so much time on his dissertation that now that 
that responsibility was over, the most important thing he could do 
would be to implement his ambitious church program. After much 
discussion and s'>mc earnest prayer, he agreed with me ami declined 
the offer, though one night he teased Mamma King and me by 

Martin Luther King, Jr. Ill 

pretending he'd accepted the post. We got very angry, but ended 
by laughing with him at the trick. 

Not long afterward Martin said to me, "How wise you were, and 
how luckv I was, for had I been president of NAACP, I could not 
have accepted the leadership of the bus boycott without lending 
weight to the white people's contention that the whole thing was 
an NAACP plot." Furthermore, the NAACP was, soon after this 
time, declared illegal in Alabama, through the efforts of the White 
Citizens Councils. Though this ridiculous ruling was eventually 
declared illegal, had Martin been an officer, his activities would have 
been seriously limited. It was providential that he did not take the 

Of all the facets of segregation in Montgomery, the most degrad- 
ing were the rules of the Montgomery City Bus Lines. This northern- 
owned corporation outdid the South itself. Although seventy percent 
of its passengers were black, it treated them like cattle— worse 
than that, for nobody insults a cow. The first seats on all buses were 
reserved for whites. Even if they were unoccupied and the rear seats 
crowded, Negroes would have to stand at the back in case some whites 
might get aboard; and if the front seats happened to be occupied 
and more white people boarded the bus, black people seated in the rear 
were forced to get up and give them their seats. Furthermore— and 
I don't think northerners ever realized this— Negroes had to pay their 
fares at the front of the bus, get off, and walk to the rear door to 
board again. Sometimes the bus would drive off without them after 
they had paid their fare. This would happen to elderly people or 
pregnant women, in bad weather or good, and was considered a great 
joke by the drivers. Frequently the white bus drivers abused their 
passengers, called them niggers, black cows, or black apes. Imagine 
what it was like, for example, for a black man to get on a bus with 
his son and be subjected to such treatment. 

There had been one incident in March, 1955, when fifteen-year- 
old Claudette Colvin relused to give up her seat to a white passenger. 
The high school girl was handcuffed and carted off to the police 

112 My Life with 

station. At that time Martin served on a committee to protest to the 
city and bus-company officials. The committee was received politely — 
and nothing was done. 

The fuel that finally made that slow-burning fire blaze up was an 
almost routine incident. On December 1, 1955, Mrs. Rosa Parks, a 
forty-two-year-old seamstress whom my husband aptly described as "a 
charming person with a radiant personality," boarded a bus to go 
home after a long day working and shopping. The bus was crowded, 
and Mrs. Parks found a seat at the beginning of the Negro section. 
At the next stop more whites got on. The driver ordered Mrs. Parks 
to give her seat to a white man who boarded; this meant that she 
would have to stand all the way home. Rosa Parks was not in a 
revolutionary frame of mind. She had not planned to do what she 
did. Her cup had run over. As she said later, "I was just plain tired, 
and my feet hurt." So she sat there, refusing to get up. The driver 
called a policeman, who arrested her and took her to the courthouse. 
From there Mrs. Parks called E.D. Nixon, who came down and 
signed a bail bond for her. 

Mr. Nixon was a fiery Alabamian. He was a Pullman porter who 
had been active in A. Philip Randolph's Brotherhood of Sleeping Car 
Porters, and in civil-rights activities. Suddenly he also had had enough; 
suddenly, it seemed, almost every Negro in Montgomery had had 
enough. It was spontaneous combustion. Phones began ringing all 
over the Negro section of the city. The Women's Political Council 
suggested a one-day boycott of the buses as a protest. E.D. Nixon 
courageously agreed to organize it. 

The first we knew about it was when Mr. Nixon called my 
husband early in the morning of Friday, December 2. He had already 
talked to Ralph Abernathy. After describing the incident, Mr. Nixon 
said, "We have taken this type of thing too long. I feel the time has 
come to boycott the buses. It's the only way to make the white folks 
see that we will not take this sort of thing any longer." 

Martin agreed with him and offered the Dexter Avenue Church 
as a meeting place. Alter much telephoning, a meeting of black 
ministers and civic leaders was arranged for that evening. Martin 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 113 

said later that as he approached his church Friday evening, he was 
nervously wondering how many leaders would really turn up. To 
his delight, Martin found over forty people, representing every seg- 
ment of Negro life, crowded into the large meeting room at Dexter. 
There were doctors, lawyers, businessmen, federal-government em- 
ployees, union leaders, and a great many ministers. The latter were 
particularly welcome, not only because of their influence, but because 
it meant that they were beginning to accept Martin's view that 
"Religion deals with both heaven and earth. . . . Any religion that 
professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned 
with the slums that doom them, the economic conditions that strangle 
them, and the social conditions that cripple them, is a dry-as-dust 
religion.'' From that very first step, the Christian ministry provided 
the leadership of our struggle, as Christian ideals were its source. 

The meeting opened with brief devotions. Then, because E.D. 
Nixon was away at work, the Reverend L. Roy Bennett, president of 
the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, was made chairman. 
After describing what had happened to Mrs. Parks, Reverend Bennett 
said, "Now is the time to move. This is no time to talk; it is time to 

Martin told me after he got home that the meeting was almost 
wrecked because questions or suggestions from the floor were cut 
off. However, after a stormy session, one thing was clear: however 
much they differed on details, everyone was unanimously for a 
boycott. It was set for Monday, December 5. Committees were 
organized; all the ministers present promised to urge their congrega- 
tions to take part. Several thousand leaflets were printed on the 
church mimeograph machine, describing the reasons for the boycott 
and urging all Negroes not to ride buses "to work, to town, to school, 
or anyplace on Monday, December 5." Everyone was asked to come 
to a mass meeting at the Holt Street Baptist Church on Monday eve- 
ning for further instructions. The Reverend A.W. Wilson had offered 
his church because it was larger than Dexter and more convenient, 
being in the center of the Negro district. 

Saturday was a busy day for Martin and the other members of 

114 My Life with 

the committee. Thev hustled around town talking with other leaders, 
arranging with the Negro owned taxi companies for special bulk 
fares and with the owners of private automobiles to get the people to 
and from work. I could do little to help because Yoki was only two 
weeks old, and my physician, Dr. W.D. Pettus, who was very careful, 
advised me to stay in for a month. However, I was kept busy answer- 
ing the telephone, which rang continuously, and coordinating from 
that central point the many messages and arrangements. 

Our greatest concern was how we were going to reach the fifty 
thousand black people of Montgomery, no matter how hard we 
worked. The white press, in an outraged expose, spread the word for 
us in a way that would have been impossible with only our own 

As it happened, a white woman found one of our leaflets, which 
her Negro maid had left in the kitchen. The irate woman immediately 
telephoned the newspapers to let the white community know what the 
blacks were up to. We laughed a lot about this, and Martin later 
said that we owed them a great debt. 

On Sunday morning, from their pulpits, almost every Negro 
minister in town urged people to honor the boycott. 

Martin came home late Sunday night and began to read the 
morning paper. The long articles about the proposed bovcott ac- 
cused the NAACP of planting Mrs. Parks on the bus— she had 
been a volunteer secretary for the Montgomery chapter— and likened 
the boycott to the tactics of the White Citizens Councils. This upset 
Martin. That awesome conscience of his began to gnaw at him, and 
lie wondered if he were doing the right thing. Alone in his studv. he 
struggled with the question of whether the boycott method was 
basically unchristian. Certainly it could be used lor unethical ends. 
But, as he said, "We were using it to give birth to freedom . . . and 
to urge men to comply with the law of the land. Our concern was 
not to put the bus company out of business, but to put justice in 
business." I le recalled 1 horeau's words, "We can no longer lend our 
cooperation to an evil system," and he thought, "lie who accepts 
evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it." Later 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 115 

Martin wrote, "From this moment on I conceived oF our movement 
as an act of massive noncooperation. From then on I rarely used the 
word 'boycott.' " 

Serene after his inner struggle, Martin joined me in our sitting 
room. We wanted to get to bed early, but Yoki began crying and the 
telephone kept ringing. Between interruptions we sat together talking 
about the prospects for the success of the protest. We were both filled 
with doubt. Attempted boycotts had failed in Montgomery and other 
cities. Because of changing times and tempers, this one seemed to 
have a better chance, but it was still a slender hope. We finally 
decided that if the boycott was sixty percent effective we would be 
doing all right, and we would be satisfied to have made a good start. 

A little after midnight we finally went to bed, but at five-thirty 
the next morning we were up and dressed again. The first bus was 
due at six o'clock at the bus stop just outside our house. We had 
coffee and toast in the kitchen; then I went into the living room to 
watch. Bight on time, the bus came, headlights blazing through the 
December darkness, all lit up inside. I shouted, "Martin! Martin, come 
quickly!" He ran in and stood beside me, his face lit with excitement. 
There was not one person on that usually crowded bus! 

We stood together waiting for the next bus. It was empty too, and 
this was the most heavily traveled line in the whole city. Bus after 
empty bus paused at the stop and moved on. We were so excited 
we could hardly speak coherently. Finally Martin said, "I'm going 
to take the car and see what's happening other places in the city." 

He picked up Balph Abernathy and they cruised together around 
the city. Martin told me about it when he got home. Everywhere it 
was the same. A tew white people and maybe one or two blacks in 
otherwise empty buses. Martin and Balph saw extraordinary sights — 
the sidewalks crowded with men and women trudging to work; the 
students of Alabama State College walking or thumbing rides; taxi- 
cabs with people clustered in them. Some of our people rode mules; 
others went in horse-drawn buggies. But most of them were walking, 
some making a round trip ol as much as twelve miles. Martin later 
wrote, 'As I watched them I knew that there is nothing more majestic 

1 1 6 My Life with 

than the determined courage of individuals willing to suffer and 
sacrifice for their freedom and dignity." 

Martin rushed off again at nine o'clock that morning to attend 
the trial of Mrs. Parks. She was convicted of disobeying the city's 
segregation ordinance and fined ten dollars and costs. Her young 
attorney, Fred D. Gray, filed an appeal. It was one of the first clear- 
cut cases of a Negro being convicted of disobeying the segregation 
laws— usually the charge was disorderly conduct or some such thing. 

The leaders of the Movement called a meeting for three o'clock 
in the afternoon to organize the mass meeting to be held that night. 
Martin was a bit late, and as he entered the hall, people said to him, 
"Martin, we have elected you to be our president. Will you accept?" 

It seemed that Rufus A. Lewis, a Montgomery businessman, had 
proposed Martin, and he had been unanimously elected. The people 
knew, and Martin knew, that the post was dangerous, for it meant 
being singled out to become the target of the white people's anger 
and vengeance. Martin said, "I don't mind. Somebody has to do it, 
and if you think I can, I will serve." 

Then other officers were elected. Rev. L. Rov Bennett became vice- 


president; Rev. E.N. French, corresponding secretary; Mrs. Erna A. 
Dungee, financial secretary; and E.D. Nixon, treasurer. Aftei that they 
discussed what to call the organization. Someone suggested the Negro 
Citizens' Committee. Martin did not approve, because that sounded 
like an organization of the same spirit as the White Citizens Council. 
Finally, Ralph Abernathy proposed calling the organization the 
Montgomery Improvement Association, the MIA, and this name 
was unanimously approved. 

Fear was an invisible presence at the meeting, along with courage 
and hope. Proposals were voiced to make the MIA a sort of secret 
society, because if no names were mentioned it would be safer for 
the leaders. E.D. Nixon opposed that idea. "We're acting like little 
boys," he said. "Somebody's name will be known, ami il we're afraid, 
we might just as well lold up righl now. The white folks are eventu- 
ally going to find out anyway. Wed better decide now if we are 
going to be fearless men or seared little boys." 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 117 

That settled that question. It was also decided that the protest 
would continue until certain demands were met. Ralph Abernathy 
was made chairman of the committee to draw up the demands. 

Martin came home at six o'clock. He said later that he was nervous 
about telling me he had accepted the presidency of the protest move- 
ment, but he need not have worried, because I sincerely meant what 
I said when I told him that night, "You know that whatever you 
do, you have my backing." 

Reassured, Martin went to his study. He was to make the main 
speech at the mass meeting that night. It was now six-thirty and— 
this was the way it was usually to be— he had only twenty minutes to 
prepare what he thought might be the most decisive speech of his 
life. He said afterward that thinking about the responsibility and 
the reporters and television cameras, he almost panicked. Five minutes 
wasted and only fifteen minutes left. At that moment he turned to 
prayer. He asked God "to restore my balance and be with me in a time 
when I need Your guidance more than ever." 

How could he make his speech both militant enough to rouse 
people to action and yet devoid of hate and resentment? He was 
determined to do both. 

Martin and Ralph went together to the meeting. When they 
got within four blocks of the Holt Street Baptist Church, there was an 
enormous traffic jam. Five thousand people stood outside the church 
listening to loudspeakers and singing hymns. Inside it was so crowded, 
Martin told me, the people had to lift Ralph and him above the 
crowd and pass them from hand to hand over their heads to the 
platform. The crowd and the singing inspired Martin, and God 
answered his prayer. Later Martin said, "That night I understood 
what the older preachers meant when they said, 'Open your mouth 
and God will speak for you.' " 

First the people sang "Onward, Christian Soldiers'' in a tremen- 
dous wave of five thousand voices. This was followed by a prayer and 
a reading ol the Scriptures. Martin was introduced. People applauded; 
television lights beat upon him. Without any notes at all he began to 
speak. Once again he told the story of Mrs. Parks, and rehearsed 

118 My Life with 

some of the wrongs black people were suffering. Then he said, "But 
there comes a time when people get tired. We are here this evening 
to say to those who have mistreated us so long, that we are tired. Tired 
of being segregated and humiliated; tired of being kicked about by 
the brutal feet of oppression." 

The audience cheered wildly, and Martin said, "We have no 
alternative but to protest. We have been amazingly patient . . . 
but we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes 
us patient with anything less than freedom and justice." 

I aking up the challenging newspaper comparison with the 
White Citizens Council and the Klan, Martin said, "They are 
protesting for the perpetuation of injustice in the community; we're 
protesting for the birth of justice . . . their methods lead to violence 
and lawlessness. But in our protest there will be no cross-burnings, 
no white person will be taken from his home by a hooded Negro 
moh and brutally murdered . . . we will be guided bv the highest 
principles of law and order." 

Having roused the audience for militant action, Martin now set 
limits upon it. His study of nonviolence and his love of Christ in- 
formed his words. He said, "No one must be intimidated to keep them 
from riding the buses. Our method must be persuasion, not coercion. 
We will only sav to the people, 'Let your conscience be your guide.' 
. . . Our actions must be guided by the deepest principles ol the 
Christian faith. . . . Once again we must hear the words of Jesus, 
'Love your enemies. Bless them that curse you. Pray for them that 
despitctully use you.' II we lail to do this, our protest will end up as 
a meaningless drama on the stage of history and its memory will be 
shrouded in the ugly garments of shame. . . . We must not become 
bitter and end up by hating our white brothers. As Booker T. Wash- 
ington said, 'Let no man pull you so low as to make you hate him.' " 

Finally, Martin said, "If you will protest courageously, and yet 
with dignity and Christian love, future historians will sav, There 
lived a great people— a black people— who injected new meaning and 
dignity into the veins of civilization.' This is our challenge and our 
overwhelming responsibility." 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 119 

As Martin finished speaking, the audience rose cheering in exalta- 
tion. And in that speech my husband set the keynote and the tempo 
of the Movement he was to lead, from Montgomery onward. 

When we talked about it later, we pondered why, in Montgomery 
of all places, a movement started which had such tremendous reper- 
cussions; why here, at this moment of history, Negroes were able to 
unite peacefully in the cause of freedom. We found only one final 
explanation. Though some of the impetus came from the Supreme 
Court decisions, and some was due to the particularly unjust actions 
of the city bus company, these were not enough to explain it. Other 
blacks had suffered equal or greater injustices in other places and had 
meekly accepted them. I suggested that it was due to his own leader- 
ship and to his devoted co-workers, but Martin said, "No." There was 
no rational explanation that would suffice. Therefore we must accept 
something else. The birth of the Movement could not be explained 
"without a divine dimension." My husband devoutly believed that 
there is "a creative force that works to pull down mountains of evil 
and level hilltops of injustice." As we have seen, he regarded himself 
as an instrument of this force, and he said, "God still works through 
history His wonders to perform." He believed that "God had decided 
to use Montgomery as the proving ground for the struggle and the 
triumph of freedom and justice in America." Martin's strong sense 
of history delighted in the appropriateness of "Montgomery, the cradle 
of the Confederacy, being transformed into Montgomery, the cradle 
of freedom and justice." 

That night, December 5, 1955, victory was far away; the struggle 
just beginning. After Martin's speech the mass meeting unanimously 
approved the demands Ralph Abernathy had drawn up, which had to 
be met before we would ride the buses again. They were very mod- 
erate: (1) Courteous treatment by bus operators must be guaranteed; 
(2) Passengers to be seated on a first-come, first-served basis— Negroes 
sitting from the back forward, whites from front to back; and (3) 
Negro bus drivers to be employed on predominantly Negro routes. 

On Wednesday, December 7, Martin headed a committee to 
meet with Mayor W.A. Gayle, the city commissioners, and bus- 

12 My Life with 

company officials to discuss terms of a possible settlement. He was 
very hopeful. The commissioners listened courteously and seemed in- 
clined to accept our proposals on bus seating, which, in fact, were 
identical to those in other southern cities such as Mobile, Alabama, 
and Nashville, Tennessee. It is important to realize that we were not, 
at first, asking for blacks and whites to sit in the same seats. However, 
the attorney for the bus companv, Jack Crenshaw, declared that the 
plan would be illegal under Montgomery's segregation laws. After the 
meeting, he gave his real reason, when he said, "If we granted the 
Negroes these demands, they would go about boasting they had won 
a victory over the white people; and this we will not stand for." 

In spite of the agreeable wav in which it had been conducted, the 
meeting came to nothing, and we knew we were in for a long struggle. 
The white people were expecting the boycott to collapse on the first 
rainy day, but Martin realized that the way to avoid this was through 
skillful organization. The first order of business was to get our people 
to and from work with as little inconvenience as possible. On Friday, 
December 9, city officials informed the Negro taxi companies that 
mass rides were illegal and that they would be put out of business if 
they continued that practice. However, by that time a motor pool of 
volunteer drivers had been organized, and pickup stations selected 
throughout the city with dispatchers to match passengers and destina- 
tions. I Iundreds of people volunteered to drive. At the boycott's peak 
there were over three hundred cars participating. There were many 
memorable and inspiring occurrences during that period. For example, 
one of the drivers was Mrs. A.W. West, who was on the board of the 
Montgomery Improvement Association. Every morning and afternoon 
this well-to-do, elderly, and elegant widow drove her green Cadillac 
back and forth from the black neighborhoods, filled with workers who 
had to get to their jobs. Eventually the MIA helped ten of the Negro 
churches to buy station wagons to supplement the car pool. The names 
of the sponsoring chun lies were painted on the car doors, ami .is they 
drove along, filled to capacity, the people sang hymns. 

But with all we could do, tlmiis.iiKls of people still had to walk. 
'I hey walked magnificently and proudly. Somebody asked cue old 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 12 1 

grandmother, coming down the street, if she was not tired. She an- 
swered, "It used to be my soul was tired and my feets rested; now 
my feet's tired, but my soul is rested." 

Without meaning to, some white women helped us by driving 
down to pick up their Negro maids, to make sure they got to work. 

Mass meetings were held twice a week at churches in the city, 
to keep morale up. Thousands of people attended them, some arriving 
hours ahead of time to be sure of getting a seat. Martin kept a firm 
hand on the orators to preserve the delicate balance between inspira- 
tion and rabble-rousing. By now he was consciously emulating the 
Gandhian technique, and many people outside of the South were be- 
ginning to realize that something new was taking place in Montgom- 
ery: black people, on their own, were creating a new instrument of 
social change; they were building and developing a totally new kind of 

The organization, all on a volunteer basis, was remarkable. The 
various committees— transportation, negotiation, programs, fund rais- 
ing—functioned surprisingly well. All the things we were doing cost 
a great deal of money, and at first it all came from Montgomery Ne- 
groes. Then, as news of our Movement spread, contributions came in 
from all parts of the country and from foreign places as far away as 
Tokyo and Switzerland. 

The spirit of the black community was inspiring. There was a 
sort of contagion of enthusiasm. Groups from all levels were becoming 
involved. This was most unusual in Montgomery, where Negroes had 
been divided into cliques and classes and had not been able to unite 
on anything before. I truly believe that this beautiful demonstration of 
unity was in a great measure due to Martin's leadership. People be- 
lieved in him and had great respect for him as a leader. Because of 
his training and background, the intellectuals could respect him and 
his genuine love of people emanated to the poorer people so they 
knew he was fully identified with them. He became a symbol of black 
unitv, a link between the divergent groups. 

\\ hile it primarily helped Negroes, my husband never allowed 
the struggle to limit itself solely to the needs of black people. He said, 

12 2 My Life with 

"What we are doing is not onlv for the black man, but for the white 
man too. The system that has banished personality and scarred the 
soul of the Negro has also damaged the white man's personality, giv- 
ing him a false sense of superiority as it gives the Negro a false sense 
of inferiority. Segregation is as bad for one as for the other. So in 
freeing the Negro we will also free the white man of his misconcep- 
tions and his subconscious feeling of guilt toward those he wrongs." 

Inevitably, and especially when reporting on the black commu- 
nity, the press tends to oversimplify issues and situations. In the case 
of coverage of the MIA, Martin became the focal point for news stories 
despite his own efforts to avoid it. This caused problems, quite nat- 
urally, since other people were also hard at work and sharing the 
dangers. At one point, saddened and discouraged by self-defeating 
rivalries, he was ready to resign. "I am willing to decrease," he said, 
"so that others may increase." 

The suggestion that Martin might resign had a unifying effect on 
the MIA board members, most of whom understood his sincerity and 
also understood that his own rank was not important to him. It was 
only the Movement he cared about. Martin always worried about 
whether any element of his own leadership was divisive. He would, 
throughout his life, question whether someone else would be more 
useful to the Movement at any moment in history. 

Although I had no prominent place in the boycott, it was an ex- 
citing time and I found my role an important one. At first our house 
was the office of the MIA. The phone rang from five o'clock in the 
morning until midnight; and all day long, groups of people were meet- 
ing there. It was impossible to keep Yoki on any sort of schedule, and 
she learned to adapt with the rest of us. I never knew how many people 
Martin would ask to stay for dinner, but somehow I managed to feed 
them. Sometimes it seemed like a loaves and fishes miracle. 

Then, as the days of December dragged on, and the white com- 
munity saw we would not give up, things began to get really difficult. 
All efforts at negotiation broke down. The mayor and the commission- 
ers joined the White Citizens Council, as a "lesson" to us. The sick 
telephone calls to our house increased. At anv hour, day or night, the 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 12 3 

phone would ring and some man or woman would pour out a string 
of obscene epithets, of which "nigger son of a bitch" was the mildest. 
Often the women callers raved on about sex, accusing Martin and me 
of incredible degeneracies. Frequently the call ended with a threat to 
kill us if we didn't get out of town. As the leader and elected spokes- 
man of the protest, Martin was the target for all the hate and frustra- 
tion of the whites— as he knew he would be when he accepted the role. 

But in spite of all the work and confusion and danger, the chaos 
of our private lives, I felt inspired, almost elated. By January Martin 
and I became convinced that this Movement was more than local. We 
felt that something was unfolding that was very important to the 
common struggle of oppressed people everywhere. I was very ex- 
cited to be a part of a surge forward that was much bigger than 
Montgomery— of a nationwide Movement whose birth was taking 
place before our eyes. Later we began to see that it was not only a 
national, but an international phenomenon, part of a worldwide revo- 
lution of humanity, asserting the individual's right to freedom and 

One night in January, recalling that I had not wanted to come to 
Montgomery, I said, "Oh, Martin, how happv I am to be living in 
Montgomery, with you, at this moment in history." 

But we could not hold that high note all the time. The threats 
and the real danger sometimes were very depressing. One night at a 
mass meeting, Martin found himself saying without premeditation, 
"If one day vou find me sprawled and dead, I do not want you to 
retaliate with a single act of violence. I urge you to continue pro- 
testing with the same dignity and discipline you have shown so far." 

On another day Martin came home feeling very weary. He said 
later that he had looked at me and the baby and thought, "Thev might 
be taken from me, or I from them, anytime." Then in the middle of 
the night the telephone rang. An angry voice said, "Listen, nigger, 
we've taken all we want I nun you. Before next week you'll be sorry 
you ever came to Montgomery. 

It was just another of the abusive calls, but Martin felt he could 

12 4 My Life with 

take no more. He went into the kitchen and made himself a cup 
of coffee and began to think calmly of the position we were in and 
what the alternatives were. With his head in his hands, Martin bowed 
over the table and praved aloud to God, saying, "Lord, I am taking a 
stand for what I believe is right. The people are looking to me for 
leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, 
they will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. 
I've come to the point where I can't face it alone." 

Martin said to me, "At that moment I experienced the presence 
of the Divine as I had never experienced Him before. It seemed as 
though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: 
'Stand up for righteousness; stand up for truth; and God will be at 
your side forever.' " 

Martin said that after this experience, he rose up sure of himself 
again, ready to face anything. 

When it became obvious that the boycott was not going to collapse, 
the city government decided on a get-tough policy. On one of those 
dreary January afternoons, Martin and I were eating dinner. Bob 
Williams, a dear friend who had been at Morehouse with Martin and 
was teaching music at Alabama State College, was with us; he spent 
a good deal ol time at our house, acting as a sort of protector. Martin 
told Bob and me, "You know, someone told me that the police are 
planning to arrest me on some trumped-up charge." 

"That would be a good thing," I said. "It would make our people 
angry and unite them even more. It would be a great mistake, one 
of the mistakes they will probably make." 

Both men agreed with me, and Martin decided not to try to avoid 
arrest. He and Bob drove downtown to pick up the church secretary, 
Mrs. Lillie Thomas (now Mrs. Lillie Hunter, office manager of 
S( I C), and then continued on to one of the parking lots that was .1 
station for the car pool. Martin picked up thru passengers ami started 
out. At the edge of the lot a policeman stopped him and asked to see 
his license. As Martin was showing it, he heard another policeman 
say, "It's that damn King fellow." 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 12 5 

When Martin left the lot, a motorcycle cop followed him. Of 
course, he drove very carefully, obeying all traffic rules. As he stopped 
to let his passengers out, the policeman pulled alongside and said, 
"Get out, King! You're under arrest for going thirty in a twenty-five- 
mile zone." 

A patrol car pulled up and took Martin to the city jail. He was 
thrown into a dingy and odorous, segregated cell. Among the prison- 
ers he recognized a teacher who had been arrested in connection with 
the protest. Others crowded around Martin, asking his help in getting 
them out. Martin said, "Fellows, before I can get you out, I've got to 
get out my own self." 

Meanwhile, the news of his arrest spread like wildfire. There were 
five mass meetings going on that evening, and the arrest was announced 
at all of them. One of our devoted church members, Miss Viola Webb, 
came rushing down our block to tell me the news. She was shouting, 
"Mrs. King, Mrs. King, they got him. They've arrested Dr. King. Mrs. 
King, please get him out. Please do something." 

I took the news calmly, because I had been expecting it, but I'm 
afraid Miss Webb thought I was unconcerned. 

The first person to reach the jail was Ralph Abemathy. When 
he offered to post bail for Martin, the official in charge said, "You'll 
have to wait till tomorrow." 

"I am pastor of the First Baptist Church of Montgomery," Ralph 
said. "Do you mean to tell me I can't sign a bond?" 

"No, you can't." 

"Can I see Dr. King?" 


Pretty soon the deacons of the church and many other people 
began gathering at the jail. It must have looked ominous to the police. 
Nervouslv, the jailer hauled Martin out of his cell to a chorus from 
its inmates, "Don't forget us, Dr. King!" 

Martin was fingerprinted and then was told, "All right, King. 
You're released on your own recognizance." 

Martin told me later that he had been a little frightened that first 
time in jail. lie had not even known where the jail was before, and 

12 6 My Life with 

he thought they might he taking him out to lynch him. He cheered 
up when he saw all his supporters waiting outside. One of the deacons 
drove him and Ralph around to each of the meetings, where the peo- 
ple were praying aloud to God to soften the jailer's heart and make 
him let their leader go. God had surely answered their prayers. 

The following Saturday night there were thirty or forty threaten- 
ing and abusive telephone calls. Finally, at two-thirty I took the receiver 
off the hook so we could get some sleep. When I put it back on at 
about seven in the morning, it rang immediately and a voice said, 
"My boys told me you took the phone off the hook last night." 

Angrily I answered, "It's my phone, and I'll do what I like with it." 

In the background Martin was saying, "Oh, darling, don't talk like 

I le would always say, "Be nice. Be kind. Be nonviolent." But I 
was just too tired and worn out to be nonviolent with so little sleep 
and so much provocation. 

That Sunday, from the pulpit, Martin told the congregation, 
"We're getting so many unpleasant telephone calls that we're taking 
the receiver off the hook at night because it's the only way we can 
get any rest. If any of you are trying to get me, you'll know why you 

Our church people were becoming very concerned about me and 
felt I should have someone stay with me while Martin was out at 
meetings. When Martin told me this, I said, "I'm not afraid to be alone. 
I'm happy staying by myself." 

We had considered the possibility of someone bombing the 
house. However, though the front of the house was right on the 
street, it was in a closely populated area, and I thought that no one 
would run the risk of attacking from there. In the back, there was 
a deep yard with a fence around it, so that no one could really get very 
close. The baby and I slept in back, and I was fairly confident we 
would be all right. Though there had been bombings in remote 
country towns, I did not think anybody would try it in a densely 
settled neighborhood in the heart of the city. 

I Iowevcr, Martin seemed SO anxious that 1 agreed to call our good 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 12 7 

friend and church member, Mary Lucy Williams, and ask her to sit 
with me the following night. 

That was Monday, January 30, 1956. At about nine-thirty in the 
evening I had put on a robe and Mary Lucy and I were chatting in 
the sitting room. I heard a heavy thump on the concrete porch out- 
side. Had I not been anticipating an attack, I might have looked 
out to see what it was. Instead I said, "It sounds as if someone has 
hit the house. We'd better move to the back." 

We moved fast— not through the hall, which would have taken 
us nearer the sound, but straight back through the guest bedroom. 
We were in the middle of it when there was a thunderous blast. Then 
smoke and the sound of breaking glass. 

Mary Lucy grabbed me and started screaming. Her screaming 
frightened me, and I was shaken by the impact and the noise. I hur- 
ried to my bedroom, two rooms back, where Yolanda was in her bassi- 
net. She was all right, and I automatically reached for the telephone. 
Then I thought, 'Whom am I going to call? I'm not going to call the 
police in this instance." 

Then the doorbell started ringing. My first thought was that it 
was the person who had thrown the bomb. I was trying to think of 
what I should do about the baby, and for a split second I got panicky. 
Then I shouted, 'Who is it?" and a voice said, "Is anybody hurt?" 

I went to the door and let in my neighbors. They were frightened 
and worried. All over our part of town people had heard the blast 
and came rushing. The windows had been blown into the living room. 
The floor was covered with broken glass. The porch had been split, 
and there was a small hole in the concrete floor. All the lights were 
off in the front rooms, and I got a bulb and screwed it into a socket so 
we could see. 

Then I decided to call Ralph Abernathy's First Baptist Church, 
where the mass meeting was being held and where my husband was 
speaking. Mrs. Irene Grant, a member of the church whom I knew, 
answered and I told her that our house had been bombed. 

I didn't think about telling her that the baby and I were safe, but 
I asked her to get some people to the house quickly. My thought was 

12 8 My Life with 

that our friends ought to come for protection. I did not want the police, 
because I could not be sure that they did not know about the bomb- 
ing before I did. 

I called some of our friends and finally reached Mrs. Euretta 
Adair, who asked, "Do you want me to come and get you?" 

I remember that when Mrs. Adair arrived, she stood looking into 
the bassinet and talking to Yoki, who was not even crying. By that 
time the house was full of people, white reporters, neighbors, all sorts 
of people trying to find out what was happening. 

A call came from the First Baptist Church to find out if we were 
safe. I assured them that we were, and they decided not to tell Martin 
until he finished his speech. But my husband noticed people rushing 
about looking worried and sensed that something had happened. He 
called to Ralph Abernathy, "Ralph, what's happened?" 

Ralph couldn't speak. Martin insisted. "Ralph, you must tell 

"Your house has been bombed." 

"Are Coretta and the baby all right?" 

"We're checking on that now. We think so." 

In his account of that terrible night, Martin wrote, "Strangely 
enough, I accepted the word of the bombing calmly. My religious ex- 
perience a Few nights before had given me the strength to face it." 

He interrupted the speech to tell the people what had happened, 
and he urged them all to go straight home. "Don't get panicky and 
lose your heads," he said. "Let us keep moving with the faith that 
what we are doing is right, and with the even greater faith that God 
is with us in the struggle." 

Then Martin rushed home. 

By the time he got there a big angry crowd was around the house. 
I he police were nervousl) holding the people back. Mayor Gayle 
.iml Police Commissioner Clyde Sellers had just arrived. Martin hur- 
ried into the house. It was so lull of people he could barely get in. 1 le 
saw me anil he saw the bain , and I think he was relieved to know that 
I had accepted it so calmly. lie said, "Thank God you and the baby 
.lie all right!" 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 12 9 

I reassured him and Martin kissed me and said, "Why don't you 
get dressed, darling?'' 

Suddenly I realized that I had been relaxing when this happened 
and although all those people were in the house, I still had my robe on! 

The situation outside the house was tense and dangerous. Though 
the crowd was singing, the people were angry and aroused. I remem- 
ber hearing "My Country, 'Tis of Thee," but you could sense the 
heat of their anger. Many were armed; even the little boys had broken 
bottles. A policeman held back one black man who said, "You got 
vour thirty-eight, I got mine. Let's shoot it out." 

Later someone said tension was so high that if a white man had 
accidentally tripped over a Negro, it could have triggered the most 
awful riot in our history. The crowd was so wrought up that the white 
reporters were afraid to leave to file their stories. The faces of Mayor 
Gayle and Commissioner Sellers were deathly pale. They went up to 
Martin and expressed their regret that "this unfortunate incident has 
taken place in our city." 

Chairman C.T. Smiley of Dexter's trustee board, and principal of 
Booker T. Washington High School, the largest Negro high school 
in the city, standing beside Martin, said angrilv, "Regrets are all very 
well, but you are responsible. It is you who created the climate for 

More people were joining the crowd every minute. They stood 
swaving and muttering and shouting insults at the nervous police. At 
that point Martin walked out on the porch. In some ways, it was the 
most important hour of his life. His own home had just been bombed, 
his wife and baby could have been killed; this was the first deep 
test of his Christian principles and his theories of nonviolence. 
Standing there, very grave and calm, he dominated those furious 
people. He held up his hand, and they were suddenly silent— the crowd 
of angry men and women, of excited children and sullen, frightened 
policemen in a clump by the steps— all were absolutely still. In a calm 
voice Martin said, "My wife and my baby are all right. I want you to 
go home and put down your weapons. We cannot solve this problem 
through retaliatory violence. We must meet violence with nonviolence. 

1 30 

Remember the words of Jesus: 'He who lives by the sword will perish 
by the sword.' We must love our white brothers, no matter what they 
do to us. We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries 
out across the centuries, 'Love your enemies.' This is what we must 
live by. We must meet hate with love." 

Then my husband's voice took on the resonance and grandeur of 
its full emotional power as he said, "Remember, if I am stopped, this 
Movement will not stop, because God is with this Movement. Go home 
with this glowing faith and this radiant assurance." 

Many people out there were crying. I could see the shine of tears 
on their faces, in the strong lights. They were moved, as by a holy 
exaltation. They shouted, "Amen." They shouted, "God bless you. 
We are with you all the way, Reverend." 

One person asked, "What will become of you?" Martin replied, 
"I have been promised protection." 

Mayor Gayle and the commissioner came forward. The crowd 
turned, began booing and threatening. The police made it worse by 
shouting, "Listen to the commissioner!" The crowd yelled furiouslv. 
Martin stepped to the edge of the porch, holding up his hand, and the 
noise suddenly stopped, as when the conductor of an orchestra holds 
his baton high. Martin spoke, "Remember what I just said. Let us hear 
the commissioner." 

Commissioner Sellers said, "We are going to do everything in our 
power to find out who did this dreadful thing and bring him to justice." 

Mayor Gayle added, "We are offering five thousand dollars re- 
ward for information leading to his arrest." 

After that the crowd began to thin out, and the people went back 
to their homes. A white policeman's voice was heard in the crowd 
saying, "II it hadn't been for that nigger preacher, we'd all be dead." 




hen everybody had gone away, 
Martin, Yoki, and I went to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Brooks, where 
we had spent our first night in Montgomery. We went to bed in the 
quiet front bedroom with a distant streetlamp throwing shadows on 
the walls. We finally fell asleep. 

Two hours later I heard a steady pounding on the front door. I 
woke Martin. We could see someone's shadow on the windowshade, 
and the baby lying in her bassinet near the window. Martin and I 
were frightened, not knowing what was in store for us now. We 
lay there frozen for a moment. We didn't know the house very 
well, but it seemed to us that to get out we would have to go into 
the hall and right past the front door. We didn't know what to do, 
and by the time Martin looked out the window, whoever had been 
there had vanished. 

A little while later, the telephone rang in the Brookses' bedroom. 
It was Daddy King calling to say he had been knocking on the front 
door, but no one had answered! Christine, Daddy King, and A.D. 
soon were back, and sometime later my own father arrived. 

13 2 My Life with 

Earlier that evening I'd been afraid that my family would hear 
about the bombing and would think we'd been hurt. I had called 
Mr. Hampton D. Lee, one of the two undertakers in Marion, to ask 
that he get in touch with my father and tell him we were all right. 
Now my father came into the room, and the first thing he said to me 
was, "I've come to take you and the baby back to Marion." 

I listened to him carefully and respectfully, but I said, "No, Dad, 
I am going to stay here with Martin." 

Daddy King had said as soon as he arrived, "Well, M.L., you 
just come on back to Atlanta." 

When Martin objected, Daddy King said, "It's better to be a live 
dog than a dead lion." 

Then my father tried to persuade him. He said, "They're after 
you, Martin. I think you ought to move into the background and 
let someone else lead for a while, and, Coretta, I've come here to 
get you and the baby and take you home for a few weeks till 
this thing cools off." 

I answered my father, saying again, "Well, I think I'll stay here. 
I would not be satisfied if I went home. I want to be here with 

Of course, Daddy King argued. He very strongly insisted on 
Martin's coming home for a while and getting away from things. He 
really wanted him to get completely out of the Movement. Though 
I had sounded so brave, I was torn. Martin and I both realized that 
there was a possibility of something happening to us. The house 
might be bombed again; the baby and I could be killed the next time. 

Finally, at breakfast, Christine said, "Daddy, M.L. has to make 
up his own mind, and you have to let him decide on what he sees as 
the right thing to do." 

Of course, we decided to stay. 

Afterward Martin said to me, "Coretta, you've been a real soldier. 
I don't know what I would have clone if it had not been for you." 

Before Martin said that, 1 had not thought about my own reac 
tions that night but had proceeded in a way that was most natural 
to me. I had always been a strong person, but I had not realized that 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 1 3 3 

Martin, so strong himself, did need me. I was very moved that he 
recognized this need. 

As soon as our house was repaired, we went back to it, but we 
did take certain precautions. Bob Williams came to sleep there every 
night— not that he slept much. He slipped his shotgun into the house 
without Martin's knowledge ot it and sat up most of the night with 
his gun beside him. When Martin discovered this, he insisted on Bob 
taking the gun away. As a matter of fact, a church member had 
brought a pistol to keep in our house, early in the struggle, but Martin 
could not reconcile a gun with his nonviolent principles. He got rid 
of the pistol and after that, we had no more weapons in our house. 
Even outside, if Martin ever heard that someone in the Movement 
was armed, he made them get rid of their weapons. He would remind 
them, "He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword." If my 
husband had not had that attitude from the beginning the Movement 
would have gone in a different direction. We would not have accom- 
plished what we did, and an ocean of blood would have been 

We did put floodlights outside our house, and the Dexter congrega- 
tion insisted on paying an unarmed man to keep watch outside all 
night. They also paid for a baby-sitter for me, and Martin promised 
not to drive around at night alone; Bob Williams or one of the other 
men always went with him. 

A few nights after our house was attacked, E.D. Nixon's house 
was bombed. After that, things quieted down for a short time, and 
in the middle of February I took Yoki to stay with my iamily tor a 
few days, and then I went to Mamma and Daddy King's in Atlanta. 
Martin went to Fisk University in Nashville to give a series of lectures. 
While we were gone, a Montgomery attorney dug up an old state law 
against boycotts. The Montgomery grand jury was called, and 
brought an indictment against Martin and about ninety other 
leaders of the Movement. The police immediately began to make 
arrests. The moment he heard this news, Martin canceled the rest of 
his lectures and came to Atlanta to pick me up and take me back to 

13 4 My Life with 

Montgomery with him. He went back knowing that he would be 

Daddv King was absolutely determined that this should not hap- 
pen. So unafraid for himself, he was in a state of terror for his son. 
He gathered a group of friends, Atlanta's most eminent Negroes, 
to reason with Martin. Among those who came to the house that day 
were A.T. Walden, a well-known lawyer; prominent businessmen 
like C.R. Yates and T.M. Alexander; L.D. Milton, president of tlie 
bank; C.A. Scott, editor of the Atlanta Daily World; Bishop Sherman 
L. Green of the A.M.E. church; Rufus E. Clement, president of 
Atlanta University; and Martin's old friend and mentor. President 
Benjamin E. Mays of Morehouse. 

Daddy King made a little talk to them. He told them of the threats 
and the bombings and his belief that the white people were out to 
get Martin. Then other people spoke, telling Martin why he must not 
go back. Dr. Mavs, knowing Martin so well, said nothing. 

Martin listened intently to everything they had to say, and then 
he made his position clear. "I must go back to Montgomery," he said. 
"I would be a coward to stay away. I could not live with myself if I 
stayed here hiding while my brothers and sisters were being arrested 
in Montgomery. I would rather be in jail ten years than desert my 
people now. I have begun the struggle, and I can't turn back. I have 
reached the point of no return." 

There was dead silence in the room; all those men knew he was 
right. The silence was broken as Daddy King burst into tears. I le 
too knew that Martin was right; he had surrendered. He said, "Well, 
son, you know that whatever you decide to do, you can count on 

Everyone immediately turned to reassure Daddy King, telling him 
that things were not as bad as they seemed. 

Dr. Mays said if a large fine was involved, he would pay it. He 
had been very moved by Martin's words, and his advice was that my 
husband must do what he lelt he had to. 

The night before this, Martin's mother and lather had been 
trying to convince him not to go hack to Montgomery. I he) were all 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 13 5 

very upset, and while the argument was going on, I had quietly slipped 
away to take Yoki upstairs. I sat alone with my baby, thinking about 
what this could mean for Martin and for the whole family. I realized 
that both Martin and I could be killed— I always thought in terms of 
both of us. I admit I had been depressed and nervous both in Marion 
and in Atlanta. Now I realized that I, as well as my husband, had to 
make a decision. I felt I must be as dedicated as he, if I were to stand 
with him. 

Martin came upstairs, half-teasing, saying, "Oh, Coretta, you left 
me down there all alone. You deserted me!" 

I explained that I had just wanted to get Yoki away from the 
argument and the tension which could upset her. 

Then I said, "Martin, there comes a time in every person's life 
when he has to make a decision all by himself, when he has to stand 
alone. This is such a time in your life. You know what you feel is 
right, and I want you to know that whatever you decide to do, I will 
always be with you." 

I decided that I must not be concerned any longer. Strangely 
enough, it was only when I was away from Montgomery that I got 
that jittery feeling— when people would say things like, "Be careful!" 
But when I got back to Montgomery we were surrounded by such 
wonderful people who had so much strength that I was inspired by 
them. It was the kind of inspiration we got from people throughout the 
Movement, and it was always to be indispensable to us. We could 
not have made it alone. And so, though we would not expose our- 
selves unnecessarily, we would go back to Montgomery together and 
continue our work. 

The decision made, Daddy King determined to come with us. We 
left Atlanta in his car at six o'clock the following morning and 
reached Montgomery at about nine. Reporters and television cameras 
were waiting at the house— how they found out we were coming, I do 
not know. 

Ralph Abernathy, who had been arrested, was out on bail and 
came over immediately. Martin went down to the courthouse with 

13 6 My Life with 

him and with Daddy King to surrender himself. The police booked 
Martin, fingerprinted him, and took a mug shot of him with a 
number hung on his chest like a criminal. Then he was released on 

The trial was set for March 19 before Judge Eugene Carter. I was 
there, of course, with Daddv King, Christine, A.D., and many of our 
friends. People were picketing outside the courthouse; some wore 
black crosses on their chests with the words, "Father, forgive them." 

William F. Thetford, the state solicitor, conducted the prosecution. 
Martin was named as the first defendant. An able group of lawyers 
was provided to defend him— Arthur Shores, Peter Hall, Orzcll 
Billingsley, Robert Carter and, of course, there was Fred Gray, who 
was attorney for the MIA. For four days Martin sat in the defend- 
ant's chair while the state produced witnesses to prove that he had 
organized a boycott contrary to the laws of the state of Alabama; and 
our lawyers brought in witnesses to show, among other things, the 
intolerable conditions for Negroes on the buses. 

On Thursday, March 22, both sides rested their cases. With 
hardly a pause for consideration, Judge Carter gave the inevitable 
decision, "Guilty." He sentenced Martin to pay a fine of five hundred 
dollars or serve 386 days at hard labor. The judge said he was giving 
Martin a "minimum" penalty because of what he had done to prevent 

Many people in the courtroom burst into tears, while others sat 
with bowed heads. Our lawyers immediately said they would appeal, 
though they knew it was not much use; and Martin was granted bail. 
As Martin and I walked out of the courtroom, dozens of friends 
followed us. Outside there was a great crowd shouting, "God bless 
you!" Then they began to sing, "We Ain't Going to Ride the Buses 
No More." 

In Stride Toward Freedom Martin wrote: "I came to the end of 
my trial with a feeling of sympathy For Judge Carter in his dilemma. 
To convict me he had to face the condemnation of the nation and 
world opinion; to acquit me he had to face the condemnation of the 
local community and those voters who kept him in office. Throughout 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 13 7 

the proceedings he had treated me with great courtesy, and he had 
rendered a verdict which he probably thought was the best way out." 

Our lawyers not only appealed the verdict against Martin; they 
also started proceedings in the Federal District Court to have segrega- 
tion on the buses declared unconstitutional. The case was heard by 
a three-judge panel on May 6, 1956. Martin spoke of the great relief 
it was for us to be in a federal court, where there was an atmosphere 
less restricted by southern thinking. 

Two weeks later, in a two-to-one decision, this federal court held 
that bus segregation was unconstitutional. The city attorneys imme- 
diately appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court. This 
meant that it would be months before there was any decision. 

Meanwhile, the boycott went on with renewed enthusiasm. The 
attempt to break the Movement, by jailing its leaders, boomeranged. 
It raised the spirit of our people and brought them into even closer 

Martin was, by that time, only twenty-seven, but he had become 
a national figure. I wish I had kept a guest book in those early days, 
as well as later. People came to our house from all over America and, 
indeed, from all over the world to see my husband and offer their 
help and assistance. Some came all the way from India, touched by 
the Gandhian aspects of our nonviolent protest. Many American 
Negro leaders came— people like Ralph Bunche; James Farmer of 
CORE; Roy Wilkins, director of the NAACP; Ruby Hurley of the 
NAACP; and Kenneth Clark, the eminent psychologist. One day 
Bayard Rustin, leader of the War Resisters' League, rang our door- 
bell. When I opened the door he said, "I have a letter of introduction 
from Ruth Neuendorfer, a former teacher of yours at Lincoln High 

As he started to hand me the letter, I said, "I know you, Mr. 
Rustin. I heard you speak when I was in the eighth grade at Lincoln 
School in Marion, and later at Antioch." 

Bayard told me how strongly he felt about our work and the possi- 
bility of its developing into a nonviolent movement all over the 

13 8 My Life with 

country. He also spoke of his admiration for my husband. When 
Martin came home, though they had never met before, they had a 
wonderful talk, and Bayard offered to help in any way he could 
Later he became very close to us and was tremendously helpful to 
my husband. 

Many white liberals also came to see Martin: among them were 
Allen Knight Chalmers and Rev. Glenn Smiley, a white southern 
member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Very important to our 
lives at this time was a New York attorney, Stanley Levison, who was 
introduced to us by Bayard Rustin. At that time they were both 
officers of an organization called In Friendship, whose purpose was to 
raise funds for people in the South suffering from economic reprisals. 
Stanley, as well as others in the group, helped the Movement finan- 
cially, serving later as fund raiser for SCLC. But it was Stanley's 
counsel that was most valuable to my husband. 

A few of our white friends in Montgomery stuck by us and paid 
dearly for it. There was the tragedy of Juliette Morgan, a white librar- 
ian who was a member of the Human Relations Council. She had 
written a letter to the newspaper comparing our Movement to the 
Movement in India and praising it. From that moment on, the white 
community completely ostracized her. The pressure and isolation 
finally grew so intense that she committed suicide by taking an 
overdose of sleeping pills. It is hard to express how sad we felt. Then 
there were Aubrey Williams and his wife— he had been head of the 
National Youth Administration under President Franklin D. Roose- 
velt—and Clifford and Virginia Durr. The Durrs suffered terribly For 
their support of the Movement and friendship with us. Mr. Durr's 
law practice suffered considerably, but they continued to attend the 
I luman Relations Council meetings and she came to the mass meet- 
ings. Other white people like the Morelands and Smiths also continued 
to come to the council meetings. Mr. Smith was an architect and his 
wife's family owned a laundry chain in Montgomery. Robert Graetz, 
the white pastor of a Negro Lutheran church, became a member ol the 
MIA executive board. 

What a strange turn our lives had taken. From being the minister 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 13 9 

of a Baptist church in a small southern city, Martin found himself at 
the center of a Movement of national proportions. For me, the change 
was equally demanding. Our house was always full; privacy, from the 
first moment, was completely gone. Almost every meal became a huge 
production. Martin might leave a meeting and bring the eight partici- 
pants home to eat with him. The reporters who waited at our house 
until Martin could get home couldn't be allowed to starve, nor the 
travelers who had come from all over the world. I learned to 
cook in quantity and to get used to the fact— hard on any woman— 
that the food would rarely be eaten at the moment it was ready, but 
might sit on top of the stove for hours on end, waiting for slow- 
moving history. 

Then, too, Martin was away a lot. He was in great demand 
throughout the country as a speaker, and he accepted many of these 
invitations in order to raise the money the Movement so desperately 
needed and to bring word of our work to the rest of the country. 

One of the most interesting of his speeches took place when Dean 
James A. Pike— afterward Bishop Pike— invited him to preach at the 
Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York on May 17, 1956, the 
second anniversary of the Supreme Court's school-desegregation deci- 
sion. The great Gothic cathedral was crowded that day. Taking his 
text from Exodus 14:30, "And Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon 
the seashore," using as a subject, "The Death of Evil Upon the Sea- 
shore," Martin compared the Negro struggle to the Hebrews' escape 
from Egyptian bondage. He quoted from Shakespeare, Jefferson, 
and James Russell Lowell on the inevitable victory of good over 
evil, and he said, "Today we are witnessing a massive change. A world- 
shaking decree by the nine Justices of the United States Supreme 
Court opened the Red Sea, and the forces of justice are crossing to the 
other side . . . looking back we see the forces of segregation dying 
on the seashore." 

Martin told me that as he was proclaiming the coming of freedom, 
an unusual sound was heard in that usually staid Episcopal cathedral. 
Uninhibited Baptist and Methodist Negroes, who had come from 
I Iarlem, shouted "Amens" that echoed from the high stone buttresses. 

1 4 My Life with 

Martin closed his speech saying, "The testimony of the Psalmist 
is that we need never walk in darkness. 'Whither shall I go from Thy 
spirit, or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend up into 
heaven, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell 
in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Thy hand lead me 
and Thy right hand shall hold me. . . .' 

"This faith shall sustain us in our struggle to escape from the 
bondage of every evil Egypt. This faith will be a lamp unto our 
weary feet and a light unto our meandering path. Without such faith, 
man's highest dreams will pass silently to the dust." 

In July Martin spoke at the Democratic National Convention, 
telling the delegates that civil rights was "one of the supreme moral 
issues of our time" and militantly calling for a strong civil-rights plank 
in the platform. 

As autumn days came to Montgomery, the boycott still went on, 
but our people were growing weary. The thought of another winter 
of trudging through cold and slush was appalling, and white resistance 
to the Movement had heightened. Negroes were dragged out of the 
car pools and badly beaten. Black-operated filling stations, which 
had been supplying us with gas, were bombed, and their owners were 
under constant harassment. The Montgomery police would intimidate 
black people, just venting their hatred, which was like a contagious 
disease, poisoning society. 

At this point the city fathers thought up the most dangerous of all 
challenges to us. On October 30, 1956, Mayor Gayle instructed the 
city's legal department "to file such proceedings as it may deem proper 
to stop the operation of car pools or transportation systems growing 
out of the boycott." Our lawyers tried to block such a move by asking 
an injunction in the federal court. They were unsuccessful. A hearing 
was set for November 13; Martin and the other leaders were served 
with subpoenas. 

It was in those dark November davs that Martin preached one of 
his most beautiful sermons at Dexter on Sunday, November 4. It took 
the form of an imaginary letter from Saint Paul to American Chris 
tians, in which the saint exhorted us to guard against forsaking spirit- 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 14 1 

ual values for material wealth. The letter ended with the words, "The 
greatest of all virtues is love. Here we find the true meaning of the 
Christian faith and the cross. Calvary is a telescope through which we 
look into the long vista of eternity and see the love of God breaking 
forth into time. . . ." 

Then Martin's voice rang through our church: "And now unto 
Him who is able to keep us from falling and lift us from the dark 
valley of despair to the bright mountain of hope, from the mid- 
night of desperation to the daybreak of joy; to Him be power and 
authority for ever and ever. Amen." 

Martin spoke bravely in public, but at home, as the day approached 
for the hearing on the car-pool injunction, he was apprehensive. He 
said to me, "You know the people are getting tired. If the city officials 
get this injunction against the car pools— and thev will get it— I am 
afraid our people will go back to the buses. It's just too much to ask 
them to continue if we don't have transportation for them. They will 
go back." 

In trying to encourage him, I found myself saying, "You know, 
what I think is going to happen is that by the time they get this 
injunction, the Supreme Court will have ruled for us. I think every- 
thing is going to work out all right." 

I don't know whether I really believed that such perfect timing 
would ever come about, but I wanted so much to comfort my hus- 
band, and these were the words I found, though I had no idea how 
prophetic they were. 

Martin, as always, recovered his strength through prayers to God 
and through inspiration from the people. On the night before the 
hearing, he spoke to a mass meeting, telling the plain truth that an 
injunction against the car pool would almost certainly be granted. He 
told the people he did not know if he could ask them to do more; 
yet, if they did not, all our months of protest would fail. Then he said, 
"This may well be the darkest hour before dawn. We have moved all 
these months with the daring faith that God is with us in our struggle. 
The many experiences of days gone by have vindicated that laith 
in a most unexpected manner. We must go on with that same faith 

14 2 My Life with 

... we must believe that a way will be made out of no way." 
When he came home that night, my heart ached for my husband. 
And for our people. 

The next morning, November 13, 1956, we were in court once 
more before Judge Carter. As chief defendant, Martin again sat at 
the table with the defense attorneys; I was in the back of the court- 
room with Ralph Abernathy and E.D. Nixon. The Montgomery at- 
torneys told the court that the city had lost fifteen thousand dollars 
in taxes as a result of the reduction of bus travel and asked for com- 
pensation. They further alleged that the car pool was "a public nui- 
sance" as well as a "private enterprise" operating without a license fee 
or franchise; they asked for an injunction against it. 

The arguments droned on. We all knew that it was just a matter 
of form. Judge Carter was going to grant that injunction. 

Then, at just about noon, there was a sudden stirring. Mayor 
Gayle and Commissioner Sellers abruptly left their seats, followed 
by two of the city attorneys. Several reporters were rushing around. 
The Associated Press reporter handed Martin a slip of paper, and we 
were all straining to see. Martin read the note to the people at the 
table; then he came running back to me, his face beaming. "Listen to 
this," he said, and he read aloud, "The United States Supreme Court 
today affirmed a decision of a special three-judge U.S. District Court 
declaring Alabama's state and local laws requiring segregation on 
buses unconstitutional." 

Many of the people heard Martin reading, and the word passed 
through the courtroom in a moment. Though court was still in session, 
there was great humming and half-whispered talk, and people were 
moving about. One old man shouted out, "God Almighty has spoken 
from Washington, D.C." 

The Supreme Court decision was a crucial landmark, but more 
basic and more heroic was the influence of the long boycott. Without 
the unprecedented unity and the determined militancy of the black 
community of Montgomery, the segregationists would have found the 
means of evasion, as they had lor decades past. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 14 3 

The decision did not mean an abrupt end to our troubles. It took 
over a month for the court order to reach Montgomery. Judge Carter 
had granted the injunction against the car pool, but now it did not 
matter at all. Martin promptly called a mass meeting. There were 
only about fifty thousand Negroes in all of Montgomery, including 
children, yet eight thousand people turned out that night. The meet- 
ing had to be held in two churches, with speakers traveling from 
one to the other. Martin announced that the MIA board recommended 
calling off the protest, but delaying going back to the buses until the 
order arrived from Washington. Bob Graetz read the Scripture, St. 
Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians: "Though I have all faith, so that 
I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing." 

He continued, "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I under- 
stood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I 
put away childish things." At those words the whole audience rose to 
their feet shouting, cheering, waving their handkerchiefs. They knew 
they had come of age. The spirit that night was so high! Every speaker 
spoke well because he felt so good, and the people would applaud 
with fervor to show that the suffering and waiting had been worth it. 

That same night the Ku Klux Klan rode. Forty or fifty carloads 
in their white robes and pointed hoods drove through the Negro 
section. Always before they had found the streets deserted, houses 
tight shut, lights turned off in terror. Not so that night. All the lights 
were on. Blacks walked along the streets or stood in groups chatting, 
casually; some sat on their front porches. As Martin said, "They 
acted as though they were watching a circus parade." Because they 
had marched together and achieved their first triumph, they were 
no longer afraid. And the Klan got the message. After a few blocks, 
the motorcade turned off and disappeared. 

As we waited for the official order to come from Washington, we 
prepared ourselves for bus desegregation. Leaflets were issued telling 
people how to act. They were instructed to behave with courtesy, no 
matter how insulting white people might be. They were told not to 
sit next to a white if any other seat was available. Above all, they were 

14 4 My Life with 

not to boast of victory, for, as Martin said, "This is not a victory for 
Negroes alone but for all Montgomery and for the South." 

We even held classes with chairs lined up like bus seats— 
role-playing, we called it. Actors were chosen from the audience. One 
would play the bus driver, others pretended to be white, and the 
rest black passengers. Some of the people playing whites were sup- 
posed to be courteous, others insulting. Those who were "playing 
Negroes" were supposed to respond to the insults with courtesy, even 
with phrases like "I love you, brother." The acting sometimes got all 
too real. Occasionally a "white" went overboard and became too insult- 
ing, and had to be called off. Some of the blacks forgot to be non- 
violent and started a fight. Martin and the others would talk then 
about our responsibilities in securing the rights we had won. 

Perhaps, today, this preparation sounds like we were being too 
conciliatory, bending too far backward to avoid difficulties. But re- 
member, all this took place almost fifteen years ago, in the deep South, 
at the very beginning of the modern Movement of black militancy. 
In fact, it was the beginning of that militancy, and it was the ground- 
work laid so carefully then in Montgomery that made the rest possible. 

The virulent segregationists among the white community did not 
make things easy. Members of the White Citizens Council threatened 
that blood would run in the streets if the desegregation order was en- 
forced. One letter to Martin threatened to burn down fiftv houses, 
including his, unless he kept his people off the buses. In this state of 
affairs the day drew near. 

In the midst of all this excitement, I was very busy on another 
project. Stanley Levison, Bavard Rustin, and Ella Baker had planned 
a big concert at the Manhattan Center in New York on December 5, 
1956, the first anniversary of the boycott, to raise money for the 
Montgomery Improvement Association. Mrs. Ralph Bunchc and Mrs. 
Roy Wilkins were among the honorary chairwomen. They had se- 
cured great stars like Duke Ellington and Marry Bclafonte to perform. 
In fact, it was there that I first met Harry, who was to become one of 
our truest friends. From that point on, whenever we got into trouble 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 14 5 

or when tragedy struck, Harry has always come to our aid, his gener- 
ous heart wide open. 

Among these great stars at the benefit concert, I was the featured 
performer. It was a frightening responsibility, especially because the 
Manhattan Center was jam-packed that night. 

Accompanied by Jonathan Brice, first I sang a program of classical 
music, and then I told the story of Montgomery in words and song. 
For this presentation I used the format I had invented for my concert 
at Mount Tabor Church long ago, when I was in Lincoln High 
School. It was also the format I later used for my Freedom Concerts. 
I told the story of the Movement and wove the spirituals and the 
freedom songs into the narration which I had written. 

I spoke briefly of the oppression suffered by many people through 
the ages and said that God had always sent deliverers to them as He 
sent Moses to the Children of Israel. I said, "Today God still speaks 
to the modern Pharaohs to 'Let My People Go.' 

"It was a year ago today, on December 5, 1955, that the cradle of 
economic, political, and social injustice began rocking slowly but 
surely. For a year we have walked in dignity rather than ride in hu- 
miliation. As we walked to and from our jobs, we sang a song to give 
us moral support." 

At this point I sang the spiritual: 

Walk together chillun, don't you get weary, 
Walk together chillun, don't you get weary, 
Dere's a great camp meetin' in the promise' land. 

Then I told the story of the old lady who had said, "It used to 
be that my soul was tired, while my feets rested. Now, my feets' tired, 
but my soul is resting." 

Fran Thomas had come to Montgomery during the summer of 
1956. She had been inspired to write a song based on those words. 

I spoke of the threats and violence we had endured and our 
determination to keep on, in spite of them. I sang an old spiritual 
in an arrangement by Bob Williams: "Lord I can't turn back, just be- 
cause I've been born again." 

14 6 My Life with 

My next song was another spiritual, "Keep Your Hand on the 
Plow," and I said, "We are going to keep our hands on the plow 
because we are determined that there shall be a new Montgomery, a 
new Southland, yes, a new America, where freedom, justice, and 
equality shall become a reality for every man, woman, and child. We 
have felt all along in our struggle that we have cosmic companionship 
—that God Himself is on our side— and that truth and goodness ulti- 
mately will triumph. This is our faith, and by this faith we shall con- 
tinue to live." 

At the close of the program I sang one of Martin's favorite songs, 
the beautiful spiritual "Honor, Honor": 

King Jesus lit de candle by de waterside, 

To see de little chillun when dey's truly baptized. 

Honor, Honor unto the dyin' lamb. 

O run along little chillun to be baptize', 
Mighty pretty meetin' by de waterside, 
Honor, Honor unto the dyin' lamb. 

My friends told me that the audience had been very receptive, 
but I knew it myself, because I could feel the warm, responsive love 
between us. 

We had a great Christmas present that year. On December 20, 
1956, the Supreme Court order reached Montgomery. That day 
Mayor Gayle announced that he would obey the ruling and maintain 
order. At a mass meeting that night, Martin reviewed the long 
struggle and said, "Our faith is now vindicated." He announced the 
official end of the boycott and urged everyone to return to the buses 
on a nonsegregated basis the next day. 

Then Martin made a final appeal for restraint and courtesy. "We 
must respond to the decision with an understanding of those who 
have oppressed us, and an appreciation of the new adjustment the 
court order poses for them." I le said, "We must seek an integration 
based on mutual respect. 

"As we go back to the buses, let us be loving enough to turn an 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 14 7 

enemy into a friend. It is my firm conviction that God is working in 
Montgomery. With this dedication we will be able to emerge from 
the bleak, desolate midnight of man's inhumanity to man to the bright 
and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice." 

The next morning, at five-forty-five, a little group gathered in our 
living room. Mrs. Rosa Parks, Ralph Abernathy, E.D. Nixon, and 
Glenn Smiley (who was white) came to ride the first desegregated 
bus with Martin. No one knew what would happen, in view of the 
threats and fury of the white extremists. Reporters and television 
people waited outside. 

Like an anniversary of that memorable morning over a year before, 
the headlights of the six-o'clock bus flashed down the empty street 
as it pulled up at the bus stop. The men walked down the steps of 
our house and through the front door of the bus. The bus driver, 
smiling broadly, said in almost a parody of the explorer Stanley's 
famous remark to Dr. Livingstone, "I believe you are Dr. King?" 

Martin said, "Yes, I am." 

"We are glad to have you with us this morning," the driver said. 

Smiling too, his tenseness gone, Martin thanked him and sat down 
in a front seat beside Glenn Smiley. With a clash of gears and a puff 
of exhaust, the first bus pulled away as though nothing had happened. 

Martin rode different bus lines most of that day. At his suggestion 
other ministers did the same, to be on hand in case of trouble. There 
was no real disturbance at first, only a few minor instances of rude 
behavior of whites to blacks. 

However, it was too good to last. Fury and frustration built up 
among a few extremist racists. Some nights, buses were stoned and 
shots were even fired into them. Negroes were dragged off the buses 
and beaten up. One pregnant woman was shot in the leg. People 
were taunted and abused. One night someone fired a small-caliber 
rifle through our front door. Then, on a night in January, there 
was a concerted guerrilla attack. Ralph Abemathy's house and his 
church were dynamited. Bob Graetz's home was bombed; three 
other Negro churches were bombed, two of them completely de- 

1 48 

Martin was deeply affected. On his twenty-eighth birthday, Mon- 
day night, January 15, 1957, he spoke at a mass meeting. He pleaded 
with his followers to receive the violence and to meet it with love. He 
said that only through love could we survive. After leading the audi- 
ence in prayer, he intoned, "Oh, Lord, I hope no one will have to die 
as a result of our struggle for freedom in Montgomery. Certainlv I 
don't want to die. But if anyone has to die, let it be me!" 

The audience was in an uproar, shouting, "No! No!" Martin 
stood in the pulpit, moved by the response, and then went quietly to 
his seat. 

But that was the worst night. There was one more eruption of 
violence on January 28. Bombs were fired, and a smoking pile of 
tourteen sticks of dynamite was found smoldering on our porch. 
Finally, the city authorities took a firm stand. There were strong 
editorials in the papers and statements by white ministers calling 
for peaceful acceptance of desegregation. An organization of white 
businessmen, called the Men of Montgomery, announced their una] 
terable opposition to the bombings. With the leading white citizens 
standing on record against it, the violence ended. Had these same 
leaders taken this position earlier, much suffering could have been 
spared. Yet, it was the force of the nonviolent movement that finally 
brought them to accord. 

And Martin's prayer was answered. Not one person died as a 
result of the Montgomery Freedom Movement. 



Lontgomery was the soil in which 
the seed of a new theory of social action took root. Black people had 
found in nonviolent, direct action a militant method that avoided 
violence but achieved dramatic confrontation, which electrified and 
educated the whole nation. It identified the evil, it clarified the 
wrongs, it summoned the latent strength of the oppressed and provided 
a means to express their determination. Without hatred or abjectly 
bending their knees, the demand for freedom emerged in strength 
and dignity. Black people had been waiting for this, and instinctively 
they seized the new method and opened a new era of social change. 

Our victory in Montgomery showed the South what could be ac- 
complished by a united effort carried out in a legal, nonviolent way. 
My husband had become a hero to black people all over the United 
States. They had long been looking for a genuine and creative leader, 
and now they turned to Martin. He was conscious of the tremendous 

He would say to me, "I am really disturbed about how fast all 

15 My Life with 

this has happened to me. People will expect me to perform miracles 
for the rest of my life. I don't want to be the kind of man who hits 
his peak at twenty-seven, with the rest of his life an anticlimax. 
Neither do I want to disappoint people by not being able to pull 
rabbits out of a hat." 

On the other hand, as I have said before, I have always felt that 
somehow Martin Luther King, Jr., was called to do the things he did, 
and that he subconsciously knew he did not have much time. When 
you look back on his early life, it seems to reveal that he was being 
prepared for the role he was to play. He went to college at fifteen and 
never paused in his breakneck rush for an education until he had 
earned his Ph.D. He was pastor of a leading Negro church by the 
time he was twenty-five. It was as if he was being readied for the 
moment in history when our people would need a leader. Martin 
was driven by a sense of urgency. Looking back now, I feel that he 
had to complete his life's work early because of his ultimate destiny 
of becoming a martyr, so that God's will and His creative purpose 
might be fulfilled. 

Martin always felt that unearned suffering and personal sacrifice 
were redemptive. He stressed this in the Movement, to give his 
followers courage; and in his personal life, it was this belief that 
enabled him to endure. 

With the victory of the buses, other movements, inspired by 
Montgomery, were starting up in places such as Tallahassee, Florida, 
Birmingham and Mobile, Alabama, and even Atlanta. These move- 
ments were headed by able men, most of whom were to work very 
closely with my husband in the years to come. The Reverend C.K. 
Steele, the dedicated and courageous president of the Tallahassee 
Movement and eminent pastor of the Bethel Baptist Church in Talla- 
hassee, was to become the first vice-president of the coming southwide 
organization, a post he still holds. LInder the dynamic leadership of 
the Reverend Joseph E. Lowery, the Mobile Movement was founded 
and flourished, giving Mobile the image of the model city of Alabama. 
Joe Lowery was to eventually become the chairman of the SCLC 
board of directors, the post he currently holds. Fortunately for SCLC, 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 15 1 

he was appointed to the pastorate of Central Methodist Church in 
Atlanta in 1968, so that he is also able to give service in the office 

The Reverend Fred Lee Shuttlesworth early became a symbol of 
the southern struggle. A man of unusual courage, Rev. Shuttlesworth 
was president of the Alabama Christian Movement in Montgomery, 
a city that became the symbol of southern oppression. He was to 
become secretary of the new southwide organization, a post which he 
still holds. 

The short-lived Atlanta Movement that came into being to de- 
segregate buses was headed by the distinguished pastor of the Wheat 
Street Baptist Church, the Reverend William Holmes Borders. 

Martin felt that all these activities should be coordinated and 
that the tide of the affairs of black men should be taken at the flood. 
He also wanted to broaden the base of our Movement. A group of 
us had talked about this in our home one day in December, 1956, 
before that last flare-up of bombings and violence in Montgomery 
and Martin proposed calling a conference of black leaders to meet and 
map out a general strategy for integration in the South. It was decided 
to call the meeting for January 10 and 11, 1957, in Atlanta. C.K. 
Steele and Fred Shuttlesworth joined Martin in sending out the invi- 
tations. These men formed a core of the leading symbol against op- 
pression in the South. Acceptances were received from nearly a 
hundred leaders in cities all over the southern states. Over the next 
few weeks, in many other conferences at our house, in which I was 
privileged to share, we planned the agenda for the meeting. 

On the night of January 9 we were all in Atlanta, and people were 
arriving for the meeting. Then, at two o'clock in the morning, 
Juanita Abernathy telephoned Ralph to tell him about the night of 
bombings and terror in Montgomery. He and Martin decided that 
they must rush back immediately to calm our people and comfort 
them. Martin asked me to represent him in Atlanta. 

When the meeting was called to order the next day, in the educa- 
tion building of Ebenezer, I was the first speaker. I explained why 
Martin could not be present and told the delegates the latest news 

15 2 My Life with 

of white violence in Montgomery. Then I presented our agenda for 
the meeting. It was unanimously accepted, and the meeting proceeded 
to follow the day's agenda. 

Martin came back to Atlanta the next day, exhausted, but deter- 
mined not to show it. He was soon refreshed and inspired by the 
enthusiasm of the large number of people gathered in Atlanta. Under 
his leadership, a temporary organization was formed, called the 
Southern Conference on Transportation and Nonviolent Integration. 
Going beyond our agenda, the meeting decided to send a telegram to 
Herbert Brownell, then the Attorney General of the United States, 
asking him to take steps to curb violence against Negroes in the South. 
A telegram was also sent to President Eisenhower, suggesting that he 
come to the South to learn about the trials of black people and to 
uphold the mandates of the Court. There was no response from 
Washington, but the invitation received tremendous coverage in the 

Much more important was the decision to hold a larger meeting 
in New Orleans on February 14 to form a permanent organization. 
At the New Orleans meeting, the purposes of the group were broad- 
ened to include a fight against all forms of segregation and a drive 
for the registration of black voters in the South. Martin wanted to 
mobilize all classes and people of all levels of education, "the no-D's 
as well as the Ph.D.'s." Another telegram was sent to President Eisen- 
hower, urging him to call a White House Conference on Civil Rights. 
It stated, "If some effective remedial steps are not taken, we shall 
be compelled to initiate a mighty Prayer Pilgrimage to Washington." 

The name of the organization was changed to the Southern 
Christian Leadership Conference, or the SCLC. Most of the delegates 
were activist leaders of their southern black communities but more 
importantly to us, they were also ministers. Our organization was, 
from the first, church-oriented, both in its leadership and member- 
ship and in the ideal of nonviolence— a spiritual concept in deep 
accord with the American Negro's Christian beliefs. 

The concept of nonviolence which our Movement developed was 
especially Martin's. He did not call for disobedience to all laws, 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 15 3 

only for disobedience to unjust laws. These he defined as laws imposed 
by a majority on a minority which had no voice in formulating them. 
He believed that such laws were "not duly constituted" and that it 
was perfectly consistent with personal conscience to disobey them, 
accepting the penalties. He believed in the supremacy of a higher 
moral law. 

He called for nonviolence, not only because of his dedication to 
the teachings of Christ, but also because it was the only practical 
method for changing the condition of the Negro. As he once pointed 
out, violent revolution can succeed only when the rebels are the 
majority, or at least constitute a large minority of a population. In 
the case of the American Negro, constituting less than twelve percent 
of the population of the United States and possessing a minuscule 
percentage of available weapons, it is suicidal. 

We were not "passive resisters." We were a militant organization 
which believed that the most powerful weapon available is non- 
violence. The nonviolent Movement made a real and permanent 
contribution to the life of this nation. It was, and still is, powerful 
and effective. Martin and his colleagues spearheaded the drive for 
direct confrontations between the just black cause and the white power 
structure. As long as he lived, Martin also did his best to prevent that 
confrontation from becoming a blood bath. 

Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, and C.K. Steele worked 
with Martin to create the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, 
and my husband was elected its president by acclamation. C.K. Steele 
was elected first vice-president, Fred Shuttlesworth, secretary, and 
Ralph Abernathy, treasurer. 

SCLC offices were set up in Atlanta because it was a hub of 
transportation in the South. Ella Baker was its first executive secretary, 
and she was succeeded by the Reverend John Tilley. 

Following those months of tension in Montgomery, Time maga- 
zine, on February 18, 1957, ran an excellent cover story on Martin 
and his leadership of the Montgomery protest, in which they called 
him "the scholarly Negro Baptist minister who in little more than a 

15 4 My Life with 

year has risen from nowhere to become one oF the nation's remarkable 
leaders of men." The article added, "His leadership extends beyond 
a single battle . . . [because] of his spiritual force." 

One of the most exciting things that happened to us was an invita- 
tion from Kwame Nkrumah, head of the government-elect of Ghana, 
to attend the Independence Day ceremonies in the capital city of 
Accra. He knew America well and had invited a number of outstand- 
ing American Negroes to share Ghana's great day. We wanted very 
much to go, but we did not see how we could afford it, because, 
though we would be guests of the Ghanaian government, we had to 
pay for our own transportation. Then the wonderful people of Dexter 
gave us twenty-five hundred dollars, and the MIA gave us another 
one thousand, toward the trip. The church people were excited because 
it would be the first time that Martin would travel outside the country, 
and since a number of them had been abroad, they wanted their 
pastor to have this experience. They realized how enriching it would 
be for him and that it could mean that he would contribute even 
more to the life of the church and the community. 

Martin always saw a close relationship between the black struggle 
in America and the struggle for independence in Africa. In his early 
speeches and sermons he had often compared European colonialism 
with Negro oppression in America. Now he eagerly anticipated the 
experience of going to Africa and being a part of the independence 
celebration of a new black nation. 

On March 3, 1957, Martin and I boarded a plane with the other 
black leaders whom Nkrumah had invited, including Ralph Bunche, 
Adam Clayton Powell, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Lester 
Granger, and Prime Minister Norman Washington Manley of Ja- 

We flew on to Accra, arriving at night, and were driven directly 
to Achimota College, where we stayed with an English professor 
and his wife. Their low stucco bungalow was very different from 
what equivalent quarters at an American university would be. We 
slept on cots with thin mattresses and no springs. However— and this 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 15 5 

was another difference from the United States— there were several 
servants to bring us breakfast and perform other such duties. Almost 
everyone we saw in Accra had servants. We were told that they were 
paid only twenty-eight cents a day, the result of colonialism. Seeing 
how that system had demoralized them bothered us and marred our 
trip. Martin was extremely upset by the servile attitude to which their 
suffering had brought them. They had been trained to bow, almost 
to cringe; their stature was decreased. It was heartbreaking. 

However, when we went into the city we were amazed by the 
handsome streets and the magnificent government-owned Hotel Am- 
bassador, more modern and luxurious than many hotels in America. 
We realized that we ourselves had been the victims of the propaganda 
that all Africa was primitive and dirty. 

On the evening of March 6 we went to the last Parliament of the 
old regime in a fine big building of British colonial style. Representa- 
tives of sixty-nine nations, headed by Richard A. (Rab) Butler, Lord 
Privy Seal of Great Britain and Vice-President Nixon, were in the 

At one or another of the ceremonies Vice-President Nixon came up 
to Martin and said, "You're Dr. King. I recognized you from your 
picture on the cover of Time. That was a mighty fine story about you." 
Then he asked Martin to confer with him in Washington when we 
got back. 

The members of the old Parliament, most of whom were white, 
were dressed as they might have been in Westminster, in English 
business suits. The officials wore the traditional white, curled wigs, 
and black robes. There was a series of dramatic speeches about the 
coming of freedom. 

Just before midnight, the last Parliament under British rule 
adjourned. The members marched out and the spectators followed 
them. A great crowd of fifty thousand Ghanaians, many of them 
just in from the bush and wearing their tribal dress, were jammed 
into the square. From a flagpole on top of Parliament House flew the 
Union Jack, its triple crosses of red, blue, and white brilliantly illumi- 

15 6 My Life with 

nated by floodlights. The crowd cheered when Nkrumah, tall and 
splendid in the bright robe of his Akan tribe, took his place on a 
wooden stand. Then they fell silent. 

As the bells of Accra began to toll midnight, Nkrumah raised his 
hand. Very slowly, to the boom of the bells, the Union Jack crawled 
down the flagpole. Then the green flag of a new, free nation rose up 
in its place. As the night wind unfurled it to the light, there was 
wild cheering. 

Again Nkrumah raised his hand and the people listened. He 
said in English, "At long last the battle has ended. Ghana, our beloved 
country, is free forever. Let us pause one minute to give thanks to 
Almighty God." Silent the people were; it was amazing that so great 
a crowd could be so still. Then, as their leader signaled the long 
minute's end, there was a mighty roar as fifty thousand voices shouted 
in unison, "Ghana is free." 

It was an immensely thrilling moment for Martin and me. We 
felt a strong sense of identity and kinship with those African people 
shouting "Freedom!" in their different tribal tongues. We were so 
proud of our African heritage, and saw in Ghana a symbol of the 
hopes and aspirations of all our people. At this moment the Ghanaians 
were free; free of political bonds, though the shadow of outside 
economic control and manipulation lingered from their colonial 

The next morning Martin awoke feeling very ill. He had some 
sort of virus infection that brought on a high fever. Though President 
Nkrumah sent his own doctor to care for Martin, it took a long time 
for my husband to respond to treatment. So that he could be more 
comfortable, we moved to the Ambassador Hotel, where he was very 
ill for several days. 

When Martin recovered we had a most interesting talk with 
Nkrumah during dinner with him at his official residence. My husband 
was particularly impressed by his intelligence and apparent sense of 
dedication. He was more charming than we had imagined. One felt a 
warmth talking with him personally that was not apparent when he 
spoke from the public platform. He was very knowledgeable about 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 15 7 

America because of his long stay there as a student, and we felt 
closer to him than to the other African leaders. Nkrumah talked about 
nonviolence, and we both felt then that he believed in it. 

Of course, this was in the beginning of Nkrumah's rule. Later he 
was to be overwhelmed by inexorable economic complications. Finan- 
cial independence had not been achieved and the new government 
found itself crippled by the onerous terms of trade with powerful out- 
side interests. Nkrumah was attempting to accomplish a positive goal 
of uniting African nations, but the means to achieve it eluded him. 

There was a great deal of criticism of Nkrumah in America. 
Martin and I felt that the image of him given by the American press 
was slanted against him, and though we did not condone all of 
Nkrumah's actions, at the same time we tried to understand. Martin 
felt that Nkrumah was embittered and pushed by forces beyond his 

The whole subject of Nkrumah's period of leadership and Ghana's 
problems are far too complex for oversimplified treatment. It would be 
fairer to leave to history a full interpretation and adequate appraisal 
of the trials of this pioneer effort. 

We left Ghana and flew to Lagos, Nigeria, where we lunched at 
the American Embassy and then flew on to Kano, in central Nigeria, 
to spend the night. There, the appalling poverty of the people burst 
upon us. I think that in Ghana there may have been a certain amount 
of "dressing up" for the occasion; perhaps we saw not much more than 
we were meant to see. In Kano we saw people living under conditions 
of filth and squalor that exceeded even the worst state of Negroes in 
America. Martin talked angrily about the exploitation of Africans by 
the British, and later, when we got to London, he compared the 
grandeur of England and the Empire to conditions in Nigeria. But 
he took comfort from the thought of our people throwing off their 
oppressors in modern times. He pointed out that there was once a 
time when the sun never set on the British Empire; now it hardly 
rises on it. 

From Nigeria we went to Rome, Geneva, Paris, and London. We 

15 8 My Life with 

particularly liked Rome— the friendly warmth of the Italian people 
and the feeling of going back into history and seeing the events we 
had read about come alive. This was especially true of our visit to the 
Vatican. Because of our own deep religious beliefs, we had a feeling 
of identification and even a strong emotional reaction to this center of 
the Catholic world. This may seem odd for a Baptist to say, but Martin 
and I never took a narrow sectarian view of religion. I remember well, 
amid the great beauty of St. Peter's, how we felt emanations of 
centuries of devotion to our Lord. It was so overpowering that Martin 
knelt down on the basilica floor and prayed. 

Soon after we returned, Martin was awarded the NAACP's 
Spingarn Medal for the person making the greatest contribution in 
the field of race relations. At the Morehouse commencement exercises, 
he received the first of his many honorary degrees. It meant so much 
to Martin and to me to have his alma mater recognize him in this 
way. President Mays, his voice resonant with the pride and affection 
he felt for Martin, told how the leadership in Montgomery had been 
thrust upon him, and said to my husband, "You did not betray that 
trust of leadership. You led the people with quiet dignity, Christian 
grace, and determined purpose. . . . While you were away, your 
colleagues in the battle for freedom were being hounded and arrested 
like criminals. When it was suggested by legal counsel that you 
might stay away and escape arrest, I heard you say with my own 
ears, 'I would rather spend ten years in jail than desert the people in 
this crisis.' At the moment my heart, mind, and soul stood up erect 
and saluted. I knew then that you were called to leadership for just 
such a time as this. . . . 

"Your name has become a symbol of courage and hope lor sup 
pressed peoples everywhere. Because you did not seek fame, it has 
come to you. It must have been a person like you that Emerson had in 
mind when he said, 'See how the masses of men worry themselves into 
nameless graves when here and there a great, unselfish soul forgets 
himself into immortality.' You are gentle and loving, Christian and 
brave, sane and wise, an eloquent preacher, an able interpreter of the 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 15 9 

Christian Gospel. . . . On this our ninetieth anniversary, your alma 
mater is happy to be the first college or university to honor you this 
way. . . ." 

This happy time was made complete for us when I Found myself 
pregnant again, as it turned out, with the son Martin had wanted so 

Martin was, as usual, enormously busy during this period. Because 
it seemed to us that the Eisenhower Administration was dragging its 
heels in the matter of Negro voting rights, Martin moved to put 
pressure on them. In a series of conferences, it was decided to call for 
a "Prayer Pilgrimage of Freedom," to be held in Washington in May. 
Very consciously, it was a meeting planned and managed by an all-black 
organizing committee. Because of my pregnancy I was unable to go, 
which I deeply regretted. 

At noon on May 17, 1957, thirty-seven thousand marchers, includ- 
ing three thousand white sympathizers, assembled in front of the Lin- 
coln Memorial. They were addressed by almost all the important black 
leaders of the day. It was about three o'clock when A. Philip Randolph 
introduced Martin to make the closing address. This was the first of 
Martin's inspiring political speeches to a national audience. Though I 
could not be with him in person, I listened proudly to the radio broad- 

Martin spoke first of the inaction of the federal government and 
of both political parties in implementing the constitutional rights of 
Negroes, particularly the right to vote. He called for a strong leader- 
ship from the federal government, from white liberals, from the 
white moderates of the South; and for a strong, courageous, and intelli- 
gent leadership from the black community. Then he launched into a 
rousing appeal which had that great crowd shouting "Amens," as with 
the full power of his splendid voice he said: 

"Give us the ballot and we will no longer plead— we will write the 
proper laws on the books. 

"Give us the ballot and we will fill the legislatures with men of 

16 My Life with 

"Give us the ballot and we will get the people judges who love 

"Give us the ballot and we will quietly, lawfully implement the 
May 17, 1954, decision of the Supreme Court. 

"Give us the ballot and we will transform the salient misdeeds of 
the bloodthirsty mobs into the calculated good deeds of orderly 

For the next year our life was comparatively peaceful, but though 
there were no big battles or confrontations, Martin was still as busy 
as ever. As a matter of fact, I hardly saw him as he rushed in and out 
of our home. According to a Jet magazine article called "Man on the 
Go," Martin delivered two hundred and eight speeches and traveled 
780,000 miles. It certainly seemed so to me. In addition, during that 
hectic period he wrote his first book, Stride Toward Freedom, which 
told the story of the Montgomery protest. It is appalling to think of 
how he managed to do it at that time with all his other commitments. 
Certainly, it was impossible for him to get any writing done at home 
because of the constant interruptions. Martin had to hide out in the 
homes of friends until his manuscript was finished. His secretary, 
Maude Ballou, who had been with him all through the protest, and 
who was to go to Atlanta for a period of time, was of inestimable 
help to him. 

Martin's growing national reputation brought him many glittering 
offers of jobs with salaries that ranged up to seventy-five thousand 
dollars a year, but these were not even a temptation to my husband. 
He grew in his certainty that he did not want to own things, that 
money and material success meant less and less to him. As the 
years went by, Martin really wished to take a personal vow of pov- 
erty. He was forced by his position as a family man to temper this 
desire, but even so, he did not want those possessions which would 
separate him from the masses. He would say such things as, "I don't 
see why we have to own a house." When he began his ministry, he 
had felt that clothes were important in representing his congregation. 
As the years went by, he discarded that view completely and boasted 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 16 1 

that he could travel around the world without a suitcase, with one 
suit only and a change of underwear. Martin always tried to eliminate 
from our own lives all things we could do without, and he hoped to 
influence his followers to do the same. 

He understood perfectly that people who come out of great 
deprivation, who have been oppressed for centuries, are anxious, as 
they move on, to share in some of the symbols of success and the com- 
forts that society can offer. But Martin would say, "We've got to 
learn that a man's worth is not measured by his bank account or the 
size of the wheelbase of his car; it is measured by his commitment." 
Martin never was satisfied that his own life was simple enough and, 
though it brought him much deep happiness, our own growing family 
did not make simplicity any easier to achieve. 

On October 23, 1957, our son, Martin Luther King, III, was born. 
We were deeply thankful and happy; Martin of course was ecstatic. 
I always had reservations about naming our first son for his father, 
realizing the burdens it can create for the child. But Martin had always 
said he wanted his son to be named Martin Luther, III. He and his 
father shared this feeling, so I agreed. 

During this period, the activities of the SCLC were accelerating, 
particularly in voter registration. In 1958, the Crusade for Citizen- 
ship was our main emphasis. On Lincoln's birthday, February 12, 
twenty-one simultaneous mass meetings were held in key southern 
cities. Martin set the keynote for them in what I think was a great 
speech. He said, "Let us make our intentions crystal clear. We must 
and will be free. We want freedom— now. We do not want freedom 
fed to us in teaspoons over another hundred and fifty years!" 

Those meetings and SCLC's growing pressure for federal enforce- 
ment of the right to vote finally led to a meeting with President Eisen- 
hower in the White House conference that SCLC had demanded at 
its first meeting in New Orleans over a year before. Martin was joined 
in Washington by A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, and Lester B. 
Granger, then executive director of the Urban League. They pre- 
sented an extremelv moderate series of proposals in which they 
requested President Eisenhower to push for a new civil-rights bill to 

16 2 My Life with 

implement Negro rights under the Constitution; to direct the Justice 
Department to act under existing statutes, to protect Negroes seeking 
to register as voters; and to halt the bombings of churches and homes. 
The federal officials were very polite, but no action was taken. 

Martin came away from that meeting without rancor but with 
mixed emotions about the Eisenhower Administration. His keen 
political sense seems so telling, reading now what he wrote about his 
discussions of racial justice with President Eisenhower: 

"His personal sincerity on the issue was pronounced, and he had 
a magnificent capacity to communicate it to individuals. However, he 
had no ability to translate it to the public, or to define the problem as 
a supreme domestic issue. . . . Moreover, President Eisenhower could 
not be committed to anything which involved a structural change in 
the architecture of American society. His conservatism was fixed and 
rigid, and any evil defacing the nation had to be extracted bit bv bit 
with a tweezer because the surgeon's knife was an instrument too 
radical to touch this best of all possible societies." 

Martin had been working extraordinarily hard— in SCLC, on his 
book, as pastor of Dexter, as president of the Montgomery Improve- 
ment Association, and officer of many other active groups. Then, that 
summer of 1958, he and I had our first real vacation since our marriage 
—two weeks in Mexico, without any official business, speeches, or 
anything else. Our eyes reveled in the beauty of the country, but, as 
usual, the contrast between the luxurious living of the rich and the 
wretched condition of the poor made Martin alternately rage and 

Hardly were we home again than another unpleasant incident 
occurred. On September 3 Martin and I went to the courthouse in 
Montgomery, where Ralph Abernathy was to testify in a private case. 
We were standing in a group just outside the recorder's courtroom 
when a policeman ordered us to move on. Martin said, "I am waiting 
to see my lawyer, Fred Gray." 

The policeman said, "If you don't get the hell out of here, you're 
going to need a lawyer." 

Martin stood his ground. 1 he officer said, "Boy, you done it now." 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 16 3 

He called another policeman, and together thev grabbed Martin, 
twisted his arms behind him, and pushed him down the stairs toward 
the city hall. I followed after them, with a feeling of desperation at 
seeing Martin hurt. The policeman turned around and tried to provoke 
me, saying, "You want to go to jail too, gal? Just nod your head if you 
want to." 

Martin, looking backward, called, "Don't say anything, darling!" 

I ran to get our friends, and when I came back into city hall Martin 
had disappeared. He was kicked and roughed up, and then, when 
they discovered who he was, he was charged with disobeying an 
officer and released on his own recognizance. 

When he got back we had a long talk. Martin knew he would be 
convicted and fined, but he said to me, "The time has come when I 
should no longer accept bail. If I commit a crime in the name of 
civil rights, I will go to jail and serve the time." 

He asked what I thought, since I would be affected more than 
anybody else. I assured him that I agreed with him, that the time had 
come for someone to take this risk and that he was the best person to 
do so. 

Martin was responding to the influence of Gandhi and his tech- 
nique of noncooperation. But my husband was becoming firmly con- 
vinced that the black leadership must prepare to suffer as Gandhi 
had. He did not want to go to jail; it was a terrible prospect for a man 
as sensitive and fastidious as he. We both knew the terrors of southern 
jails— that over the years, many Negroes who had been imprisoned 
even for short sentences had simply disappeared. However, Martin 
realized that his imprisonment would arouse sympathy for our Move- 
ment. He felt that if he asked other people to suffer in the Cause, then 
he, their leader, should be prepared to do so in still greater measure. 

I remember another thing he said during that period, when we 
were discussing the problem with some friends. In a way, Martin 
considered our arguments about his going to jail irrelevant. He said, 
"You don't understand. You see, if anybody had told me a couple 
of years ago, when I accepted the presidency of the MIA, that I 
would be in this position, I would have avoided it with all my strength. 

16 4 My Life with 

This is not the life I expected to lead. But gradually you take some 
responsibility, then a little more, until finally you are not in control 
anymore. You have to give yourself entirely. Then, once you make 
up your mind that you are giving yourself, then you are prepared 
to do anything that serves the Cause and advances the Movement. I 
have reached that point. I have no option anymore about what I will 
do. I have given myself fully." 

As always, I was ready to accept what Martin thought was right, 
and I agreed with his decision. We talked it over with his colleagues 
in the MIA and Daddy King who was visiting us in Montgomery at 
the time, and we prayed together. Then Martin waited for the case to 
come to trial. 

As we had foreseen, my husband was found guilty and sentenced 
to a fine of ten dollars or fourteen days in jail. He immediately asked 
the judge for permission to make a statement. The permission was 
granted and this now historic statement was read to Judge Eugene 
Loe on Friday, September 5, 1958, in Montgomery, Alabama.* 

Martin's actions caught the judge by surprise. He appeared startled. 
After he had tried Martin's case, he recessed the court. I left the court- 
room with Ralph and Juanita and went to the Dexter Avenue Baptist 
Church for a mass meeting to enlist support for Martin's unjust con- 
viction. Martin's attorney, Fred Gray, remained with his client. The 
judge said to Martin, "Dr. King, you know you can get out on bail. 
Wouldn't vou like to get someone to pay your fine?" 

"No, your honor," my husband answered, "I do not wish to pay 
the fine." 

When the time came for the prisoners who had been sentenced 
to be taken to jail, Martin followed at the end of the line. When it 
came Martin's turn to enter the wagon, the prison officials refused 
to let him in. He went inside again, and waited for the second load. 
The same thing happened all over again. By this time, Martin realized 
that there was a design to keep him out of jail. The authorities seemed 
baffled as to how to proceed, but Martin was determined to serve his 

* The full text of this statement appears on page 341 of the Epilogue. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 16 5 

time. Finally, he was told, "Dr. King, you may go now. Someone has 
paid your fine." 

Greatly puzzled, Martin said, "I wonder who it could have been?" 
"It was probably one of your associates," he was told. Martin in- 
sisted that this could not be, because he had informed his associates 
of his plans and instructed them not to pay his fine. Martin was per- 
sistent in trying to find out how his fine got paid and finally he was 
told that an anonymous person had paid his fine. He had no alterna- 
tive but to leave. 

Police Commissioner Clyde Sellers had a keener sense of public 
relations than his subordinates. He realized what bad publicity Mont- 
gomery and its public officials would get when the nation learned 
that Martin Luther King, Jr., was in their jail. He paid the fine out 
of his own pocket and issued a statement that he wanted "to save the 
taxpayers the expense of feeding King for fourteen days." 



hricle Toward Freedom, Martin's 
first book, was published on September 17, 1958. It got excellent 
reviews, and Martin went on a tour to help with the publicity- Every- 
where he went— in Detroit, in Chicago, and especially in Harlem- 
crowds poured out to see him. 

He was in Harlem on the night of September 19, and the next 
afternoon we were expecting him to return to Atlanta. I was sitting 
in our bedroom thinking about getting ready to go to the airport to 
meet him, as I always did, when he returned from out-of-town trips. 
The telephone rang. It was Dr. O. Clay Maxwell, of the Mount 
Olivet Baptist Church in New York City. Dr. Maxwell, a long time 
friend of the King family, said, "How are you, Mrs. King?" 

A little mystified, I answered, "Fine, thank you, Dr. Maxwell." 

Dr. Maxwell said, "Now, Mrs. King, I want you to prepare your- 
self. I have some bad news for you." 

Of course, I thought instantly of Martin. Was it the word I had 
always half-expected? Was he dead? Was he badly hurt? My heart 
beat rapidly. 

1 67 

Dr. Maxwell told me that Martin had been stabbed by a Negro 
woman while he was autographing books in a department store on 
125th Street. The woman, he said, was obviously deranged, and 
Martin was badly hurt. "He's alive," Dr. Maxwell said, "but it is 
serious, very serious." 

I asked him to keep me informed of every development, while I 
got ready to fly to New York. My brother had come from Marion to 
visit me, and when I told him the news, I began to cry. Then I began 
praying, "Lord, I hope this is not the way Martin has to go, but if it 
is, help me to accept it." 

Ralph Abernathy called and asked if what he had heard on the 
radio about Martin was true. I tried to give him what details I had, 
but in the middle of talking to Ralph I broke down again. After a 
moment or two I pulled myself together and told Ralph I was going 
to New York. Ralph said he would make the plane reservations and 
come with me. 

By that time people were pouring into the house and the tele- 
phone was constantly ringing with people concerned about my hus- 
band. I pulled myself together and calmly began to prepare for the 
ordeal of what the next several weeks would bring. There were 
several calls back and forth to New York. 

Once the phone rang, with someone reporting that the knife had 
been removed. A moment later, before I had time to digest the news, 
someone else called and said, "No, the knife is still in Martin's 
chest." I decided I was going to believe that the knife had been 
removed and he was all right— something that was not true at the 

As usual some of our devoted Dexter members came immediately. 
Some of the ladies of our congregation helped me pack— the v were 
all so wonderlul and supportive. Bob Williams arrived saying he was 
going with me, and Christine telephoned that she would join us in 

We left Montgomery about nine o'clock and traveled most of the 
night because we had to wait for a plane connection in Atlanta, where 
we were joined by Christine. All those hours while I was enroute, I 

16 8 My Life with 

kept thinking about the possibility of Martin's death. At the same 
time I tried to tell myself that he would survive. 

We got to New York about daybreak. At the airport were the 
Reverend Thomas Kilgore of the Friendship Baptist Church of New 
York, Bayard Rustin, Stanley Levison, and Ella Baker. They all 
seemed worried and nervous, anxiously trying to help me understand 
what had happened. We heard the details of how Martin had been 
autographing books at an improvised table in the shoe department of 
Blumstein's Department Store, when a forty-two-year old black woman 
walked up to him and said, "Are you Dr. King?" 

He answered, "Yes, I am." 

In a low, vindictive voice she said, "Luther King, I've been after 
you for five years." 

There was a flash of steel as the woman pulled a very sharp 
Japanese letter opener out of her clothing and plunged it into 
Martin's chest. Immediately a tremendous uproar and confusion 
broke out. Someone grabbed the woman— Mrs. Isola Curry. Some- 
one else moved to pull out the knife, but Martin stopped him. Martin 
sat in his chair perfectly calm, with the knife sticking out of his 
chest. He told me later that he felt no great pain at first, but he 
realized that this might be fatal. There was little blood in sight, 
but he knew he might be bleeding internally. Once he accidentally 
touched the edge of the knife, and it was so sharp it cut his hand. 

The police came for Mrs. Curry. There was some talk of her hav- 
ing been used; of a possible conspiracy, but this was not true, nor 
did we ever really suspect such a thing. She was quite demented and 
talked wildly about how ministers were responsible for all her trou- 
bles. At the police station, where a policewoman searched her, a pistol 
was found in her bosom. We were grateful that she had not used that. 

An ambulance came and took Martin to the Harlem Hospital. I 
was told that while they were waiting for the doctor, Martin lay 
quietly on an operating table with that knife still sticking in his chest. 
He said that though he tried to calm his distraught friends, he himself 
recognized that this might be the end. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 16 9 

Before the doctor arrived and before they could bring to Harlem 
Hospital special equipment needed for the operation, the police 
brought Mrs. Curry into the room so Martin could identify her. The 
moment she saw him she said, "Yah, that's him. I'm going to report 
him to my lawyers." 

Martin said that it struck him as being so funny, he smiled in 
spite of the terrible pain. 

Thousands of people, meanwhile, had gathered in the street out- 
side Harlem Hospital to sing and pray and to watch quietly. We 
heard that people all over the nation were praying for Martin. 

In the car on the way from the airport, Stanley suggested that after 
we had refreshed ourselves at Tom Kilgore's house, which was not 
too far from the airport, we would go to see the chief surgeon, Dr. 
Aubre D. Maynard, who, with a three-man team, had operated to 
remove the knife. Dr. Maynard was a Jamaican who was practicing 
in Harlem. He talked to me first about what a marvelous character 
my husband had, how calm he was. Dr. Maynard said that Martin's 
whole attitude throughout the long ordeal was beautiful. "If he had 
become frightened or emotionally upset," Dr. Maynard said, "it would 
have affected his chances of survival. Indeed," he went on, "the 
point of the knife was just touching his aorta. If he had moved sud- 
denly, if he had sneezed, he would have died instantly. Dr. King's 
wonderful spirit and his cooperation helped to save his life. As you 
well know, your husband is an extraordinary man." 

Then Dr. Maynard told me about the details of the operation and 
mentioned an aspect of special interest. He said he had made the 
incision over Martin's heart in the form of a cross. "Since the scar will 
be there permanently and he is a minister, it seemed somehow appro- 
priate. We had to remove two ribs in order to get the knife free, but 
we've done everything possible. We feel that his recovery will be 
complete. Though complications could set in, and we can't be sure for 
about three days, we think he will be all right." 

Then my friends took me to Martin's room in the hospital. He 
was lying there with a tube in his nose and in his throat for drainage 

17 My Life with 

of his chest, and he was still under heavy sedation. Groggy as he was, 
however, he recognized me right away. I was told that he had been 
asking for me all night. 

I think it was only then, when I saw Martin lying there, that I 
realized how seriously he had been wounded. The doctor's words 
went through my head, "If he had moved, or sneezed ..." I thanked 
God for what seemed almost a miracle. Martin and I knew that it 
was God's grace that had kept him and that He would sustain us 
during this period. Although there was much anxiety and concern 
for his life by his family, friends, and millions of followers over the 
world, Martin was calm— and so was I. It was as if both of us knew 
that this was not the time— that this trial was preparing us for some- 
thing that was still to come. 

While I sat there in the hospital room with my husband, I tried 
to evaluate what had happened to him. I could not believe it was just 
a meaningless, senseless act. There was more to this experience. I was 
sure that it was a message from God. I thought of the crowds that 
had followed Martin everywhere, of their magnetic reaction to his 
words as he spoke to them on a street corner in Harlem the night 
before he was stabbed. It was like Palm Sundav, I thought, when 
Christ went to Jerusalem and the people glorified him. The experi- 
ence of the stabbing was like Gethsemane; not a real crucifixion, but 
a very dark and arduous period in his life when, perhaps, my husband 
was being tested, as, perhaps, his followers also were. We had 
spoken of violence and of being able to accept a blow without striking 
back. Now our words again were being put to the test. 

The real test of one's belief is how one reacts in a severe crisis. 
But Martin said of Mrs. Curry as soon as he was able to speak 
clearly, "This person needs help. She is not responsible lor the vio- 
lence she has done me. Don't do anything to her; don't prosecute her; 
get her healed." 

Eventually, Mrs. Currv was committed to an institution for the 
criminally insane, and we hoped that she was well cared for. As for 
myself, I have no bitterness toward Mrs. Curry, and as near-fatal 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 17 1 

as this attack was, it never produced within me a feeling of trauma. 
I always felt that it had deep meaning and purpose, as our whole 
lives had. 

Every leader needs a time of quiet contemplation such as Gandhi 
and Nehru had in their prison cells. The weeks of recuperation were 
such a time for Martin. The pressures and hurry and strain were in 
abeyance, and he could rethink his philosophy and his goals, and 
assess his personal qualifications, his attitudes and beliefs. 

My husband was what psychologists might call a guilt-ridden 
man. He was so conscious of his awesome responsibilities that he liter- 
ally set himself the task of never making an error in the affairs of the 
Movement. He would say, "I can't afford to make a mistake," though 
he knew that as a human being he was bound to. 

We had long talks in his quiet hospital room and tried to evalu- 
ate what had come from this trial. First, was Martin's idea of personal 
redemption through suffering. We felt that we were being prepared 
for a much larger work; that, in order to be able to endure the perse- 
cution and the suffering ahead, we would have to rededicate our- 
selves to nonviolence and to the cause of bringing freedom and human 
dignity to all people. We knew that victory in Montgomery had been 
only one small step forward. The South was still almost completely 
segregated; despite the Supreme Court decision, the schools were 
still almost completely segregated. The attitude of the white southern- 
ers had not changed significantly; indeed, to some extent it had 
hardened. And we knew that despite differences in social patterns, 
our people in the North also suffered greatly. It would be a long, long 
struggle to bring full equality to black people. 

One thing that this attack so forcefully brought home to us was 
that even one of our own people might use violence against Martin. 
We could not help remembering that Gandhi had been assassinated 
by one of his own people. 

Strangely enough, out of the most tragic and evil circumstances 
often comes good, and crises are filled with opportunities as well as 

17 2 My Life with 

dangers. This tragic crisis did produce some positive results. For one 
thing, I felt that it helped to bring the black community together in 
support and concern. Not only did Negroes identify with Martin, 
but many white persons could also identify with this misfortune. Men 
and women all over the nation, whether they had previously known 
much about Martin or not, began to think about him, to know his 
philosophy, and to pray for him. They began to understand his mes- 
sage. From churches throughout the country, from decent people of 
all beliefs, came a tremendous outpouring of concern and goodwill. 
We were smothered in flowers, overwhelmed by hundreds of tele- 
grams and thousands of get-well cards and letters. I had to set up an 
office in the hospital to try to answer as many as possible. 

One of the most touching letters came from a young high school 
student who wrote: "I read in the paper that the doctor said that if 
you had even sneezed, you would have lost your life. I am glad you 
did not sneeze and that God spared you to continue to do good." 

Martin turned to me and said, "I too am glad I did not sneeze, 
because if I had, I wouldn't have been here to see these gains." 
After that day, Martin used this incident to illustrate ideas in many of 
his sermons and speeches. In fact, it was used in Memphis on April 3, 
1968, his last speech. 

On October 3 Martin was released from the hospital. The doctors 
wanted him to stay in the New York area, so we spent three weeks in 
Brooklyn in the home of Rev. Sandy F. Ray, a long-time friend of 
the Kings. Rev. Ray was so generous that I shall always feel indebted 
to him. We returned to Montgomery, though not immediately to the 
full-speed, pressured existence that Martin had been living. The 
doctors had told him that he must take it easy for a while, and he 
obeyed them. The attack upon him had been more of a shock to his 
system than he realized. For that short period, he was forced to remain 
out ol the heat of battle in order to regain his strength. 

This seemed a good time to fulfill Martin's long-time dream of 
going to India. For many years he had hoped to visit the land Gandhi 
had set free, to study his peaceful revolution at first hand, and to 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 17 3 

talk first hand with the people who had known and worked with him. 
We had had visitors from India in August that year who had greatly 
impressed us both, and whose spiritual qualities, in a sense, had given 
us part of the accepting peace that had allowed us to survive the 

For nearly a year Martin had had an invitation from the Gandhi 
Peace Foundation to make a speaking tour of India to meet their 
leaders, including Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Since we had 
neither time nor money, we postponed the trip. Now it was made 
possible by a grant of five thousand dollars from a devoted friend, 
Libby Holman Reynolds, through the Christopher Reynolds Founda- 
tion, to the Friends Service Committee. 

Early in March, 1959, Martin and I, accompanied by Professor 
Lawrence D. Reddick, flew to India. Our plane was supposed to land 
in New Delhi, but due to some difficulty we were diverted to Bombay, 
where we arrived the night of March 9. Thus, our first sight of India, 
so eagerly anticipated, was a shock to us. The city was beautiful from 
the air, with a bright necklace of lights encircling the fine harbor. 
But as we drove in from the airport through narrow, odorous streets, 
we saw thousands of people dressed in rags sleeping on the sidewalks 
or huddled in doorways, lying wherever they could find space. We 
were appalled. When we asked why hundreds and thousands of peo- 
ple were stretched out on the dirty pavements, we were told that they 
had no other place to sleep; they had no homes. They carried everything 
they owned with them, wrapped up in a rag or a newspaper. It was 
very hard for us to understand or accept this. The sight of emaciated 
human beings wearing only a dirty loincloth, picking through garbage 
cans both angered and depressed my husband. Colonialism was re- 
sponsible. Never, even in Africa, had we seen such abject, despairing 

As we drove up to the luxurious Taj Mahal Hotel, a man with a 
child in his arms came up to the airport bus. He couldn't speak 
English, but he opened his mouth and pointed to it, and then he 
pointed to the child, making it plain he was starving. Belore we had 
left the United States our sponsor had told us not to give money to 

17 4 My Life with 

beggars because the government was trying to discourage this sort of 
thing. Martin soon disobeyed these instructions and gave all the money 
he could to the forlorn humans who beseeched us. 

Later, when we returned to America, Martin talked many times 
about these sad sights. He spoke of our great surplus of grain and the 
cost of storing it, and he said, "I know where we could store it free 
of charge, in the wrinkled stomachs of starving people in Asia and 

The next day we flew on to New Delhi. At the airport Martin 
told the reporters, "To other countries, I may go as a tourist, but to 
India I come as a pilgrim." 

That very first evening we were invited to dinner at Prime Minister 
Nehru's house. We were thrilled and excited at the prospect of meet- 
ing Nehru, the political leader of the Independence Movement. The 
Prime Minister's residence was a huge classic sandstone house which 
had been built by the British at the height of the Empire. We drove 
through high wrought-iron gates guarded by sentries, and around a 
drive between fine lawns and beds of brilliant flowers. 

Nehru, looking very elegant in his long, fitted, white coat with 
a rose pinned on it, greeted us in the spacious hall. He took us up 
a broad flight of stairs into a formal sitting room, where we met 
his daughter, Indira Gandhi, who is now the Prime Minister. She 
was quietly charming, a gracious hostess. Of course, Nehru was grace 
and courtesy itself, and he seemed genuinely glad to meet my husband. 

At dinner Nehru talked with Martin, comparing the Indian 
struggle for freedom with that of the American Negro for civil rights. 
They also discussed the method of nonviolence in our struggle. Nehru 
stressed the importance of the use of nonviolence. He commended mv 
husband for the leadership he had given in this direction. Martin said 
to him, "I've read so much about Gandhi and the success of the non- 
violent movement here that I wanted to come and see for myself." 

Martin commented on the fact that British Indian friendship had 
been possible even between people who had represented a colonial 
power and those who had been its subjects. He felt that this was 
because the Indians had used nonviolence to achieve their indepen- 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 17 5 

ence instead of bequeathing a legacy of bitterness that violence would 
have engendered. 

As they talked about Gandhi, Nehru said, "You know I did not 
always agree with him." 

We knew this from our reading. Also our Indian friends who came 
to Montgomery had told us about the policy battles between Nehru and 
Gandhi. Gandhi was completely dedicated to nonviolence, while 
Nehru was inclined to accept it as a useful revolutionary technique. 
Gandhi did not wish to thrust India into a modern technological 
society; Nehru felt that India could not survive without becoming 

But their quarrel was not simple. Both men realized the complex- 
ities of using nonviolence as a technique of the masses. Nehru had 
written most logically of the dangers in Toward Freedom: 

"Were a remote village and a mob of excited peasants in an out-of- 
the-way place going to put an end, for some time at least, to our 
national struggle for freedom? If this was the inevitable consequence 
of a sporadic act of violence, then surelv there was something lacking 
in the philosophy and technique of a nonviolent struggle. For it 
seemed to us to be impossible to guarantee against the occurrence of 
some such untoward incident. Must we train the three hundred and 
odd millions of India in the theory and practice of nonviolent action 
before we could go forward? And, even so, how many of us could 
say that under extreme provocation from the police we would be 
able to remain perfectly peaceful?" 

Then, Gandhi himself never saw nonviolence as a retreat from 
confrontation, as an avoidance of risk. He wrote in An Autobiography: 

"I do believe that when there is only a choice between cowardice 
and violence, I would advise violence. ... I would rather have India 
resort to arms in order to defend her honor than that she should in 
a cowardly manner become or remain a helpless victim to her own dis- 
honor. But I believe that nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence, 
forgiveness is more manly than punishment." 

My husband and the Prime Minister talked about these matters for 
about four hours. I listened carefully, but I am not sure I would have 

17 6 My Life with 

been so politely still if our meeting had taken place later in the trip. 
For example, I certainly would have talked about the women of India, 
had I realized how much progress they had made with the coming 
of Independence. As we traveled through the land, we were greatly 
impressed by the part women played in the political life of India, far 
more than in our own country. We knew that Gandhi had involved 
the women of India in the struggle for independence and that many 
of them had gone to jail like the men. Gandhi also worked to liberate 
women from the bondage of Hindu and Muslim traditions. 

The next morning my husband and I went to lay a wreath on 
the shrine of the Raj Ghat, where Gandhi's body had been cremated. 
Then we met with other officials who had been leaders in the fight for 
freedom. Among them were the first President of India, Rajendra 
Prasad, who lived in the two-block-long palace with a golden dome 
that had been the viceroy's house; and Vice-President Sarvepalli 
Radhakrishnan, the philosopher-politician. Of all the people we met 
in New Delhi, we most enjoyed listening to him. He talked about 
his philosophy of life and, in a way, he reminded me of Mordecai 
Johnson, who had first inspired Martin's interest in Gandhian ideals. 
When we left, Martin said that our first twenty-four hours in India 
had been like meeting George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and 
James Madison in a single day. 

In the days to come, we met many other Indians who had been 
disciples of Gandhi. Some of them still dressed as he had, in coarse, 
handwoven khaki cloth robes. Gandhi had vowed poverty, and he 
rejected the materialism of Western civilization. One of the things 
that presented a paradox for us was that certain of these men still 
dressed in that simple way, while at the same time they lived in the 
great houses the British had built, and, in their many luxuries, copied 
their former masters. It was difficult for us to resolve this conflict. 
We understood that people who have been oppressed often have the 
need to live luxuriously as a sort of compensation; we hoped that some- 
day they might strike a balance. However, when we left New Dellii, 
we did find many people who lived in true Gandhian simplicity. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 1 7 7 

We loved the Indian people for the warmth and the spiritual 
quality they possessed. An especially interesting experience was our 
visit with the saintly Vinoba Bhave, who was walking through India, 
as Gandhi had, preaching his idealistic doctrine of sarvodaya, or a 
spiritual, decentralized socialism. 

We found Bhave and his followers camped in a big meadow dotted 
with tents. They were cooking on open fires while the children ran 
about playing. While we were there, they struck camp and started 
walking up the dusty road. Martin and I walked with Bhave, listening 
to him talk. He believed that people would be better off if they had 
no government, because government corrupts, and the more organiza- 
tion you have, the more corrupt people become. I think Martin felt 
that Bhave's views, while truly idealistic, were too impractical for 
implementation. However, he was impressed by Bhave's argument 
that it was possible for a nation to totally disarm unilaterally; and if 
that were done by a country like India, it would have a profound moral 
effect on the whole world. 

In the course of our travels we visited many places that Gandhi 
had made so memorable by his presence that they had become shrines. 
Gandhigram (Gandhi Village), in southern India, was a training 
center, almost like a school, with many young people. We were 
fortunate enough to attend a religious service conducted as Gandhi 
had done when he was alive. Before several hundred people sitting 
cross-legged on the ground in off-white robes, prayers were read from 
Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Buddhist holy books. 

Most of the people we met were dedicated Gandhians, and in 
our talks with them we gained a deeper insight into the principles of 
satyagraha, or soul force, which was the basic concept of Gandhi's 
nonviolent movement. 

By way of contrast, we went to a cattle show with the Maharaja 
of Mysore. He was a pleasant, charming, enlightened man who was 
progressive in his thinking, even if regressive in the opulence of his 
manner of living. At the fair he was cheered by the crowd and 
appeared very popular. We could not help feeling that as maharajas 
go, he was one of the good ones. 

17 8 My Life with 

Martin made speeches all over India, always emphasizing his debt 
to Gandhian thinking. Most of the time, I sang on the same program; 
the Indians loved the Negro spirituals. And wherever we went we 
met the officials of the various states. Some of them seemed to us good 
men and idealists. Others appeared to have been corrupted by power, 
like politicians all over the world. Though such as these disturbed us, 
because of our idealistic attitude toward India, we then asked our- 
selves, "Why should Indians be different from humanity everywhere?" 

With all its terrible contrasts of rich and poor, its materialists and 
idealists, philosophers and self-seekers, the Indian experience had a 
terrific impact on Martin's mind. One thing he learned was patience. 
It had taken nearly half a century for the Indian people to gain their 
independence. Many of their leaders had been imprisoned for ten 
years or longer, whereas ours had stayed in jail only a few days or 
weeks. Somehow in America we had felt the gains would come fast, 
and we were certainly not prepared to wait passively for freedom. The 
Indians, influenced by Eastern philosophy, did not have our sense of 
urgency; but we learned from them that the long struggle for freedom 
required endurance and even more suffering than we had already 

Martin returned from India more devoted than ever to Gandhian 
ideals of nonviolence and simplicity of living. He constantly pondered 
how to apply them in America. His great problem was the enormous 
difference between the mechanized complexity of our way of living 
and theirs. He even considered the idea of changing his style of dress 
to a simpler one, but he decided that since his main purpose was to 
attract people to the Cause, unusual dress might even tend to alienate 
followers. Dress was really a superficial form rather than the spiritual 
quality he was aiming for. 

He was more determined than ever to live as simply as possible. 
He felt, as in India, that much of the corruption in our society stems 
from the desire to acquire material things— houses and land and cars. 
Martin would have preferred to have none of these things. He finally 
said to me, "You know, a man who dedicates himself to a cause 
doesn't need a family." 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 1 7 9 

I was not hurt by this statement. I realized that it did not mean 
he loved me and the children less, but that he was giving his life 
to the Movement and felt he therefore could not do as much for his 
family as he might in other circumstances. He saw a conflict between 
duty and love that prevented his giving himself utterly to the Cause. 
But I knew that, being the kind of man he was, Martin needed us. 
He functioned better with a wife and children because he needed 
the warmth we gave him, and from the standpoint of the cause, hav- 
ing us gave him a kind of humanness which brought him closer to 
the mass of the people. 

The influence of India was so strong that Martin's conscience con- 
tinually questioned whether he was being really nonviolent and really 
ascetic. He realized that in our civilization a man who has to travel 
a lot will do his job much more efhcientlv with a car; he could not 
function without having a place to live, and would have grave diffi- 
culties without a telephone. He finally decided that in the conditions 
prevailing in America, we had to have certain things, and that he 
must strive to be more like Gandhi spiritually. 

His struggle with these problems was not unlike the struggle of 
Gandhi himself, who had written: 

"How was one to treat alike insulting, insolent, and corrupt offi- 
cials, co-workers of yesterday raising meaningless opposition, and 
men who had always been good to one? How was one to divest oneself 
of all possessions? Was not the bodv itself possession enough? Were 
not wife and children possessions? Was I to destroy all the cupboards 
of books I had? Was I to give up all I had and follow Him? Straight 
came the answer: I could not follow Him unless I gave up all I 
had. . . ." 

Martin never took on the pretentious qualities of the leader of a 
large movement, nor did he ever leel the need to have people at his 
beck and call, as happens to so manv men who rise in the world. 
When our staff people tried to make him a person of importance who 
should have all sorts of attention paid him, he refused to allow it. I le 
would much rather drive a Ford car than a Cadillac. I remember 
when he was coming back from the Birmingham jail, our staff mem 


bers were very excited and thought that he should have a real hero's 
welcome. It was even suggested that we use a motorcade of Cadillacs. 

When I told Martin about this, he said, "Now, what would I look 
like coming back from jail in a Cadillac? You just drive our car to 
the airport, and I'll drive you home." 

But it was very difficult for Martin to keep from being worshiped 
by the black masses. It was a great temptation to them, because they 
had never had the opportunity to acclaim a great leader of their own 
before. They felt that nothing was too good for Dr. King, that he 
should ride in Cadillacs behind motorcycles and have every sort of 
pomp and tribute usually paid to the great leaders of mankind. 

You see, they thought of him as the outstanding person of their 
race in the world. He was, to many of them, the President of the 

Family grace with Yoki ami Marty 

Bernice McMurry Scott 

At Ant inch 

With Marty and Yoki 

in front of Martin's birthplace on 

Auburn Avenue in Atlanta 


Mother King, Daddj King, 
Grandmother Jennie Williams, 
A.D., Christine, and Martin 

June, 1953 
Dexter Avenue Baptist Church 



J 1 * HI I 

The Montgomery hus strike 

Arrest in Montgomery , 

September, 1958, 
far "loitering" 

With Yokiin 1956 


With Harry Belafonte 
and Duke Ellington at 
first anniversary concert 
of Montgomery Protest 

With Marty and Yuki at farewell 
ceremony at Dexter, January, i960 

l 11 \ I l II A^S 

Mr. and Mrs. Scott, Mother King. A.D., 
Christine and Isaac VarHsat Dexter farewell 

With Edytke Scott Baglej 

Preaching at Ebenezer 

Okie Leonard Scott 

At recital, with Russell Cootie 

"I Have a Dream.'' March on Washington, August, 1963 

Birmingham, April, 1963 


Birmingham, May, 1963 


IMiHl I'll! SS IMUlMllnMI 

With Ralph Abernathj and Willi, mi (.'. Anderson 
at arrest in Album, Georgia, July, 1 { ><>2 

With Yoki, Bunny, Dexter, 
and Marty, December, J 963 


Receiving congratulations 
of King Olav of Norway 
after Nobel Peace Prize 

Award, December, 1964. 
Daddv King is at far left. 

In jail with Ralph Abernathy 
in St. Augustine, 
Florida, June, 1964 

At Nobel Ceremonies with 

the Reverend and Mrs. King, Sr., 

( In r is tine, and A.D. 

Daddy King 

End of March from Selma to Montgomery, March, J 965, with 

Bayard Rustin, John Lewis, Ralph and Juanita Ahernathy, 

Ralph Bunche in front line. Andrew Young is in foreground. 

Mr. and Mrs. Obie Scott with their grandchildren: 
Dexter, Yoki, Auturo Bagley, Bunny, and Marty 

At home, 1967 

With Yoki 

The Final March. With A.D., Runny, Ralph Ahernathy, Dexter, 
and Marty. Yoki is next to A.D., but hidden by the wagon. 

Rob Williams, Yoki, Runny, Marty, and Dexter 

•*&*- *** 

fe if 




or three years, since 1956, Martin 
had been virtually commuting between Montgomery and SCLC head- 
quarters in Atlanta. Toward the end of 1959, my husband had come 
to the point in his life when he felt that he had to give still more time 
to the civil-rights struggle, and that in order to do this, he could no 
longer perform his duties as full-time pastor of Dexter. The times 
seemed to dictate the need for a concentrated assault on the system of 
segregation in the South. Martin felt that if SCLC was to expand and 
really become the catalyst that would move the South and the nation 
forward, then he must devote full time to the organization and its 

The Dexter congregration did not in any way resent Martin's ac- 
tivities. In fact, it is hard to describe the patience and understand- 
ing they showed us. Rather than requiring that Martin preach every 
Sunday, when civil-rights activities required his presence elsewhere, 
they would hire other ministers to fill in for him. Martin himself 
would be assailed with guilt as to whether he was giving the church 

18 2 My Life with 

sufficient attention; vet, at that same moment, the board of deacons 
and church members of Dexter would say, "We know all the de- 
mands upon you, but don't even consider leaving us. Dr. King, we 
want vou to stav at Dexter forever." 

It was a very hard problem, but finally the pressure of traveling 
back and forth to Atlanta, trying to pastor at Dexter, speaking and 
traveling all over the country, as well as in other parts of the world; 
the increased demands of the Civil Rights Movement; and all the other 
demands placed on him as a leading public figure, led Martin to the 
painful decision that he must leave Montgomery. 

Atlanta provided the greatest opportunity for his personal develop- 
ment as well as offering the most favorable climate in which SCLC 
could grow. He discussed the situation with Daddv King, who pointed 
out that having Martin with him at Ebenezer would be of enormous 
help to him, since he was finding it increasingly difficult to manage 
alone. The matter was taken up with the board of deacons, and they 
most generously offered Martin the position of co-pastor of the Ebenezer 
Baptist Church of Atlanta. 

Martin was moved and excited by the prospect, but, even so, 
leaving Dexter was a great wrench for us as well as for the congrega- 
tion. There was something very special to us about Montgomery; it 
was our first church, and our experience of sharing and suffering with 
the people brought us so close together. We loved the congregation 
and they loved us. They wanted Martin to stav, and though we knew 
we must move on, we shared their feeling. The members of the 
congregation, as well as others in the Montgomery community, would 
say to him, "Oh, Dr. King, we feel so comfortable when you're in 
town. We just know that if anything happens, you'll know how to 
handle the situation." 

On Sunday, November 29, 1 was in church when Martin offered 
his resignation. He asked the Reverend T.E. Brooks to preach the 
regular sermon, and then lie went to the pulpit. As he stood there, so 
filled with emotion, you could fee] the love ami sorrow of the people 
rea< hing toward him. 

Martin said. "What 1 am about to sav I know vou are already 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 18 3 

aware of. . . . For almost four years now, I have been trying to do as 
one man, what five or six people ought to be doing. . . ." He talked 
of the responsibilities that had been thrust upon him and "the strain 
of being known" and the fact that he had been unable to serve them 
as completely as a pastor should. Then he said, "I want you to know 
that after long and prayerful meditation, I have come to the conclusion 
that I can't stop now. History has thrust upon me a responsibility from 
which I cannot turn away. I have no choice but to free you now." 

Then supporting himself on the lectern, his heart reaching out to 
the brothers and sisters, Martin said, "I would like to submit my 
resignation as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, to become 
effective on the fourth Sunday in January, 1960." 

As the congregation of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church rose for 
the Benediction, they sang, "Blest Be the Tie That Binds," and my 
husband wept. 

Two days later, on December 1, 1959, Martin served notice on the 
nation of a great new thrust toward black freedom. He said, "The 
time has come for a broad, bold advance of the southern campaign for 
equality. After prayerful consideration I am convinced that the 
psychological moment has come when a concentrated drive against 
injustice can bring great tangible gains. . . . Not only will it include 
a stepped-up campaign for voter registration, but a full-scale assault will 
be made upon discrimination and segregation in all forms. We must 
train our youth and adult leaders in the techniques of social change 
through nonviolent resistance. We must employ new methods of 
struggle involving the masses of the people." 

The unfolding of this intricate offensive was made possible by 
our moving to Atlanta where Martin's direction of the Movement 
could be more effective. 

On the last Sunday in January, there was a big ceremony in 
Martin's honor at Dexter. His life in Montgomery was reviewed and, 
to Martin's complete surprise, Mamma King, A.D., Christine, and my 
parents all suddenly appeared. Yoki and Marty, then only four and 
two, were also present. It was a beautiful and moving occasion that 

18 4 My Life with 

was culminated when the congregation presented us with a lovely 
silver tea service engraved with the inscription: "To Dr. and Mrs. 
Martin Luther King, Jr., in grateful appreciation. Dexter Avenue 
Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama 1954-1960." 

At a testimonial given by the Montgomery Improvement Associa- 
tion, Martin again spoke with deep emotion. All of us had lived through 
so much together that our hearts were very close. Many of our older 
friends— people who had been the backbone of the mass meetings of 
the Movement— embraced us. 

While many of the people who struggled with us in Montgomery 
developed an attitude of reverence toward my husband, some of the 
older women shared a kind of spiritual affection for him which was 
akin to that held for "favorite sons." 

The deep bond of love which we shared was movingly expressed 
by Mother Norman who said, "I love Dr. King like my own son. His 
own mother couldn't possibly love him any more than I do!" 

She also referred to me as her daughter. I shall always remember 
the time when I gave a benefit concert for the Montgomery Improve- 
ment Association. She stood up at intermission clapping proudly, 
saying, "That's my daughter!" On that farewell evening when she came 
up to say goodbye to us, she handed me an ash tray which she had 
made. The base of it was a tin top from a half-gallon jar, encased 
by soft drink bottle tops strung on wire, with the same arrangement 
for the handle. She said, "I know you don't want this junk in your 
house, Mrs. King." Deeply touched, I replied, "I will always keep 
this ash tray in a special place in my house. I hope you will come to 
visit us in Atlanta someday so you can see it." 

Mother Norman died before she had a chance to visit us, but her 
ash tray is the one that is most used in our house. I keep it on the 
counter in the family room near the telephone. Of the many gifts we 
received on leaving Montgomery, this was perhaps the most meaning- 
ful one. 

The parting was so beautiful, so deeply touching; we felt exalted, 
yet unworthy of their admiration. We left Montgomery with the 
knowledge that our experience there had been so meaninglul that 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 18 5 

never again would anything quite like it happen to us. We felt we 
had grown and developed, as had the Movement. 

So much had happened to prepare us personally for the years 
ahead, and, at the same time, the Movement had developed to such a 
point that its direction had been charted and its growth and maturation 
assured by the foundation that had been laid in Montgomery. 

Hardly had we moved into our rented house in Atlanta when 
Martin was hit by the most serious attack on his reputation he had 
ever endured. A Montgomery Grand Jury indicted him on a charge 
of falsifying his Alabama state-income-tax returns for 1956 and 1958. 
The implication was that Martin had received money from MIA and 
SCLC that was unaccounted for. 

Though the accusation was utterly false, it caused Martin more 
suffering than any other event of his life up to that point. He said to 
me, "Many people will think I am guilty. You know my enemies have 
previously done everything against me but attack my character and 
integrity. Though I am not perfect, if I have any virtues, the one of 
which I am most proud is my honesty where money is concerned." 

He was, in fact, completely scrupulous and utterly meticulous in 
his accounting. He felt that this was crucial to his leadership of the 
Movement; but more importantly, he was the sort of man who was 
ruthlessly honest with himself in such matters. 

His family and friends, among them Ralph Abernathy, Dr. Ben- 
jamin Mays, Bayard Rustin, Stanley Levison, Dr. Ralph Bunche, and 
many others, tried to reassure Martin, but despite all of the bravery he 
had shown before, under personal abuse and character assaults, despite 
the courage he was to show in the future, this attack on his personal 
honesty hurt him most. 

He told us, when the news first came, "All of you know I don't 
have the money to fight such a charge in the courts." Besides we were 
thoroughly accustomed to southern-style justice. "I won't under any 
circumstances use any funds from the Movement for such a purpose. 
And so, for the rest of my life, people will believe that I took money 
that didn't belong to me." 

18 6 My Life with 

Our trusted friend, Stanley Levison, answered, "Martin, it isn't 
your responsibility to defend yourself. You are in this trouble because 
of who you are and all you have done for the Movement and this 
country. It is the country's duty to see that you are properly defended." 

This was a very difficult time for me because I had never seen 
Martin affected so deeply. My husband's sense of morality was so 
offended by being accused of such a crime and attendant national 
publicity, that he agonized to the point that he even experienced a 
feeling of guilt. He realized that he could be vindicated onlv in the 
courts or in public debate and he felt that the public would be vul 
nerable to this attempt to destroy his image and to stop the Movement. 
I tried desperately to assure him that the vast majority of people be- 
lieved in him and understood the motivation of the state of Alabama. 
But I could see that he began to feel that people had lost faith in him 
and that no one would want to listen to him. To see him in this frame 
of mind troubled me very much. 

Martin finally pulled himself together enough to make a trip to 
New York where he talked with our good friend, Dr. Ralph Bunche. 

Dr. Bunche listened and realized how upset he was. He said, 
"Look, Martin, it's the word of the state of Alabama against the word 
of Martin Luther King. There is no question in mv mind which the 
country will accept." 

Then he led Martin out of his office quite mysteriously, without 
explaining, and led him to the Office of the Secretary General. He was 
most cordial and Martin was deeply moved. Of course, Dr. Bunche had 
the sensitivity to realize that this would make Martin understand that 
his reputation had not changed with persons who counted. 

After about a week, we began to get some perspective on how 
people were reacting to this trumped-up charge. It soon became clear 
that people were outraged. They contributed to Martin's defense and 
the best lawyers were on hand in Montgomery— Fred Gray, Arthur 
Shores, Orzell Billingsley, and Peter Hall; Chauncey Eskridge and 
Robert Ming of Chicago, and Judge Herbert Delaney of New York. 

In May we went to Montgomery for the trial with Daddy King, 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 18 7 

Christine, and Ralph Abernathy. We were in court from Monday to 
Saturday. I was scheduled to speak in Cleveland on Sunday at three 
services tor the Antioch Baptist Church Women's Day, but I did not 
see how I could go through with it. 

On Saturday, May 28, the case went to the jury. Though the 
evidence clearly exonerated Martin, we had small hopes of an acquittal 
in that southern court even though, in an extraordinary admission, the 
prosecution's star witness said he believed in Martin's honesty. The 
jury came in, and the judge, with all the pomp and dignity required 
by such circumstances, asked for their verdict. I could hardly believe 
it when I heard the foreman say, "Not guilty." 

A southern jury of twelve white men had acquitted Martin. It was 
a triumph of justice, a miracle that restored your faith in human good. 
The words which Martin had so often quoted, rang truer than ever 
before: "Truth crushed to earth will rise again," and "No lie can live 
forever." It foreshadowed the lesson Martin's enemies were to learn 
more than once; his integrity was too powerful to be besmirched by 
direct assault. 

While Martin and the rest of the family returned to Atlanta, I 
left that night with Ralph Abernathy for Cleveland, arriving at five 
in the morning, without having finished writing my speech. I could 
not make up my mind whether I should use the speech I was writing, 
or to talk extemporaneously about some of my own experiences. Ralph 
said to me, "Coretta, I think you ought to speak about your experience 
this week; just talk about that." 

I went to bed in Cleveland, but I didn't really sleep. I lay there 
meditating until it was time to get dressed for the eleven o'clock service. 
When I was introduced to the congregation, I spoke without notes 
for forty minutes— as I spoke, the words came forth, and the audience 
seemed to listen intently. I felt that I was able to communicate to them 
the meaning of those long days in court, the terrible anxiety, and the 
triumphant conclusion. 

A dear friend, Mrs. Leola Whitted, who had been one of our 
most devoted members at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and was 

18 8 My Life with 

now living in Cleveland, reassured me. She said, "Girl, you held that 
audience spellbound. I am so proud of you." I was thankful that the 
spirit had guided me on this occasion. 

1960 was the year of the student sit-ins to desegregate lunch 
counters and restaurants. They began in Greensboro, North Carolina, 
when Joseph McNeill, a freshman at the Agricultural and Technical 
College of North Carolina, was refused service at the bus-terminal 
lunch counter. His roommate, Ezell Blair, Jr., showed him a book 
that had been published about Martin and the bus boycott. Inspired 
by this, Blair, McNeill, and two other freshmen went to Woolworth's 
five-and-ten on February 1 and sat there, quietly but insistently de- 
manding service. Of course, they were refused, but they also refused to 
leave. Day after day, they went back and sat, joined by both black and 
white students coming from the Women's College of the University 
of North Carolina and Bennett College. 

The wire services picked up the story, and the Movement spread 
like a forest fire. Within two weeks black and white students in 
college towns south from Virginia to Florida and west to Louisiana, 
organized sit-ins. Some were arrested, but this merely spread the flames. 

Martin and the students were very close. At the sit-ins, many of the 
young people carried signs saying, "Remember the teachings of Gandhi 
and Martin Luther King." As the protest spread, it was proposed that 
SCLC sponsor a meeting of student leaders to organize them and set 
a keynote of nonviolence. Martin was enthusiastic, and money was 
appropriated by SCLC to finance it. 

The three-day meeting was held at Shaw University in Raleigh, 
North Carolina, beginning on Good Friday, April 15, 1960. Among 
the 145 student leaders who attended were James Bevel, Bernard Lee, 
James Lawson, Lonnie King, Marian Wright, and Dianne Nash. 
Martin and Lawson were the keynote speakers. 

At that meeting, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee 
(SNCC or Snick) was formed. 

Under Martin's guidance the members pledged themselves abso- 
lutely to nonviolence and, of course, to work for complete racial 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 18 9 

integration through that method. SCLC agreed to help finance the new 
organization until it could stand on its own feet. 

It was during these student demonstrations that the song which 
was to become the anthem, or symbol, of the Movement was first sung. 
It is based on a Negro church hymn which was first sung by black 
textile workers. During the 1940's, it was brought to Tennessee and 
later taken up by the students and then by all of us. People sang it at 
one rally after another, until finally, no rally could end without it. "We 
Shall Overcome," with new verses added all the time, was sung at 
sit-ins and by marchers; by demonstrators facing police, dogs, and fire 
hoses; in churches and paddy wagons, and in jail houses throughout 
the South. It was so spirited and carried so much resolve and emotion 
that it gave people courage and determination. It became our anthem, 
the "Marseillaise" of the Movement. 

The sit-in movement caught on in Atlanta in the fall of 1960. The 
buses had already been desegregated by a boycott under the leadership 
of the Reverend William Holmes Borders who organized the Love, 
Law and Liberation Movement, which included such men as the 
Reverend Samuel Williams, the Reverend Martin L. King, Sr., the 
late Judge AT. Walden, Jesse Hill, and others. On that occasion, 
Rev. William Borders said, "Thank you, Montgomery! Thank you, 
Martin Luther King." But all the restaurants and lunch counters in 
Atlanta were still completely segregated. There was hardly a place 
outside our own neighborhoods where a Negro could even get a soda 

o Do 

except by going to the side door of a drugstore and having it handed 

It is difficult to describe how inescapably segregation pursued you, 
even though you instinctively tried to avoid putting yourself into 
situations where you would be insulted. Martin was once on a trip, 
flying into Atlanta, well alter he had achieved national recognition. 
He struck up a conversation with the white man sitting beside him 
on the plane, and they enjoyed their conversation together so much 
that his fellow passenger invited Martin to have lunch with him at 
the airport when they landed in Atlanta. 

Martin gladly accepted, and the two men went into the restaurant 

19 My Life with 

together. They asked for a table for two, and the hostess looked at 
Martin and said, "I'll have to seat you at a separate table." 

She directed Martin to an area behind a curtain and said, "Every- 
thing is the same: the food, the table, and the chairs are the same." 

My husband answered her kindly but firmly, "Oh, no. It is not 
the same. When you segregate me, you deprive me of fellowship with 
my brother here, when I want to continue to talk to him." 

He pointed to the decorated walls and said, "When I am behind 
this curtain, you deprive me of the aesthetic pleasure of those paint- 
ings. It is not at all the same." 

Of course, Martin was not willing to be seated behind a curtain, 
and he left. 

It was against just such discrimination that the students began to 
organize protest demonstrations. Their main target in Atlanta was 
Rich's Department Store, one of the largest in the South. They invited 
Martin to sit-in at the lunch counter with them, and of course he 
accepted with alacrity. 

There were about seventy-five students in the group on that 
particular day and they were all arrested, Martin with them. Among 
them was Lonnie King, leader of the Atlanta Student Movement; the 
Reverend Otis Moss, the Reverend John Porter, Ruby Doris Smith, 
the Reverend A.D. King, and Marian Wright. The students in Atlanta 
were extremely well organized and during demonstrations moved 
with military precision. The Reverend Fred C. Bennette, Jr., the com 
mander who gave the orders, was referred to as "Le Commandant." 
It had been agreed, in advance, that if they were arrested, they would 
not put up bail and most of them stayed in jail. Martin said, "I'll stay 
in jail one year or ten years if it takes that long to desegregate Rich's." 

The whole community was aroused when the imprisonments be- 
came known. A committee of students and adults was formed to 
negotiate with the merchants and city officials to try to reach a settle 
ment. Martin stayed in jail for about a week before an agreement was 
reached. I was pregnant at the time, but I went to see him almost ever) 
day. Though the rules of the jail allowed visiting only once a week, 


Martin Luther King, Jr. 19 1 

Daddy King knew the sheriff, who was a decent man, and he arranged 
that I could come. 

By this time, Yoki and Marty were almost five and three respec- 
tively. This was to be the first time they were aware of his going to 
jail. They had heard the news on the radio as they were being driven 
home from nursery school. Yoki came home crying and both of them 
asked me, "Why did Daddy go to jail?" 

I had been trying to prepare myself for this day and now I said to 
them, "Your daddy is a brave and kind man. He went to jail to help 
people. Some people don't have enough to eat, nor do they have 
comfortable homes in which to live, or enough clothing to wear. 
Daddy went to jail to make it possible for all people to have these 
things. Don't worry, your daddy will be coming back." 

Little Marty, who loved airplanes, had said that when he grew up, 
he wanted to be a pilot, so he could fly his daddy around. Now, he 
asked, "Did Daddy go to jail on the airplane?" Because I wanted so 
much to relieve them of their anxieties, I answered "Yes" to Marty's 
question. You see, it had been their experience that when Daddy was 
away, he always went on the airplane. I felt it so important for them 
not to develop a fear of jail-going, but rather to feel it a badge of honor. 

A family friend who happened to be teaching Yoki in the children's 
literature class at Quaker House, overheard a conversation between 
a white classmate and Yoki. The little white girl who was Yoki's age 
said to her in a derogatory tone, "Oh, your daddy is always going to 
jail." Yoki replied, calmly, and proudly, "Yes, he goes to jail to help 
people." That was the end of that. You can imagine how it warmed 
my heart when I was told about this. 

Later, he went to jail in Albany in early December of 1961. The 
children were a year older, six and four, when the news reached 
us by television. Yoki again cried because she feared her daddy 
would not be back for Christmas. This time Marty consoled her. It 
was a deeply touching experience for me. Only four years old then, 
he sat on the side of the bed with one leg folded under the other which 
hung off the side of the bed. He said, "Don't cry, Yoki. Daddy will be 

19 2 My Life with 

back. He has to help the people. He has already helped some people, 
but he has to help some more and when he finishes, he'll be back, so 
don't cry, Yoki." 

It was gratifying to see the children accept jail-going, not as some- 
thing to be feared, but something to be admired, even hoped for, for 
themselves. Yoki said later, "I'd like to go to jail with my daddy." 

Though I really wanted to go to jail, Martin never wanted me to 
do so while the children were so young. I understood the hardships as 
the children did not. I have been deeply involved in the Movement 
from the beginning, but sometimes I feel as if my participation has not 
been complete because I have not had this experience. I would 
proudly go to serve the Cause. Though I have never phvsically suf- 
fered imprisonment, I have been to jail many times spiritually, because 
I felt so strong an empathy with Martin that when he went to jail, 
part of me would be imprisoned with him. 

One day, news spread through Atlanta that a settlement had been 
reached and that Martin and the students were going to be released. 
Jesse Hill telephoned me at nine o'clock that evening inviting Lonnie 
King's wife and me to meet the others for a celebration at Paschal's, a 
fine integrated restaurant owned and operated by Negroes. I was very 
pleased. As I got dressed, I had such a good feeling because I was 
going to see my husband. 

When I got to Paschal's I looked around. Though many of the 
students who had been in jail were present, Martin was not there. I 
somehow did not want to ask about him, having a premonition of evil. 
It was so strange to sit there, amid the celebration, afraid of what I 
would hear. Then someone told me, "They kept Dr. King in jail." 

I could not understand it and I was desperately unhappy. No one 
had warned me that Martin had not been released. Finally I discov- 
ered what had happened. Back in April or May, Martin, who had 
neglected to change his Alabama driving license for one from Georgia, 
had been arrested for driving with an invalid license. 

It had happened one night when we had dinner and spent the 
evening with Lillian Smith, the eminent writer. Afterward we took 
her back to Emorv University Hospital where she was undergoing 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 19 3 

treatment for what she told us was cancer. On the way a policeman 
stopped Martin simply because he had a white woman in his car. 
Then, when he saw that he was dealing with that well-known "trouble- 
maker," he issued a summons. 

This had happened in nearby De Kalb County, a well-known 
stronghold of the Klan. The next day, Martin and Daddy King went 
to answer the summons. Martin had been fined twenty-five dollars, 
given a suspended sentence, and released on probation. Somehow 
he was not aware at the time of the suspended sentence. Now, when 
he was being released on the sit-in charges in Atlanta, De Kalb 
County officials came and asked for his custody on the grounds that 
he had violated his probation by the sit-in. This was Saturday night. 
A hearing was set for Tuesday, and Martin stayed in jail. 

On Tuesday morning, the De Kalb County sheriff came to the 
cell for him. He handcuffed Martin and walked arrogantly out with 
his prisoner. Naturally, the press photographers were alert. A picture 
of Martin handcuffed, following behind the sheriff, appeared in news- 
papers throughout the country. 

I went to the hearing at the De Kalb County Courthouse with 
Daddy King, Christine and A.D. At the end of the proceedings, Judge 
Mitchell said, "I find the defendant guilty and sentence him to six 
months' hard labor in the State Penitentiary at Reidsville." 

It was a horrible shock to all us, obviously a viciously unjust sen- 
tence for a traffic violation. It was hard to bear. I was five months preg- 
nant and emotionally overwrought. 

Christine burst into tears, and seeing her, for the first time since 
the Movement began in 1955, I cried in public. Daddy King was so 
upset himself that he scolded me for crying, which seemed to make it 
worse. I felt so alone and helpless. Martin had already been in jail for 
eight days, and I was tired out from anxiety and from my daily trips 
to visit him. Then, such a long sentence meant that our baby would 
arrive while he was in jail and I would have to have the child alone, 
without him. I could not help feeling sorry for myself. 

Martin was immediately taken back to a jail cell. Daddy King and 
1 were allowed to go in to see him. I was trying not to cry when we 

19 4 My Life with 

went into the cell, but the tears were streaming down my face. When 
Martin saw me he said, "Corrie, dear, you have to be strong. I've 
never seen you like this before. You have to be strong for me." 

Then I realized that Martin had been weakened bv his days in 
jail, and was greatly depressed by this unexpected shock. He was 
relying on the deep reservoir of strength which I had always drawn 
from in crisis situations, but I, too, was totally unprepared for the 
dreadful decision. 

Daddy King said, "You don't see me crying; I am rcadv to fight. 
When you see Daddy crying, Coretta, then you can start crying. I'm 
not taking this lying down." 

So he said, but he was emotionally affected. He was thinking, "I 
have to hold up for Coretta, and I have to hold up for mv daughter, 
and I have to hold up for my wife." This was something I did not 
want to happen to him. I tried hard, and finally, I felt that I had taken 
myself in hand. 

Martin told me, "I think we must prepare ourselves for the fact 
that I am going to have to serve this time." I said, "Yes, I think we 
must prepare ourselves for that." 

He asked me to see that he got newspapers and magazines and 
writing materials and to leave him some money. I went home to take 
care of these things, and to see my two children, determined to pre- 
pare myself for the painful period to come. 

Meanwhile, our lawyers had asked the judge not to send Martin 
to Reidsville immediately, as they were going to prepare a writ of 
habeas corpus. The judge promised he would not. Rut at about eight 
thirty the next morning, A.D. called me and said, "Coretta, thev took 
M.L. to Reidsville last night." This seemed more than I could bear. 

Later Martin told me that at four-thirty the following morning, 
several men had come into the jail cell where he was sleeping with the 
other prisoners. Thev played a flashlight on his face and called. "King! 
King! Wake up!" 

It was very frightening. Again, he knew only the awful history of 
such mid-night visits, and nothing of where they were taking him. 
They made him dress and handcuffed him very tightly and put chains 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 19 5 

around his legs. He rode the three hundred miles to Reidsville in 
those painful handcuffs and chains, without knowing what his fate 
would be. 

When he got to Reidsville, exhausted and humiliated, he was 
thrown into a very narrow cell where hardened criminals were kept, and 
then made to put on a prison uniform. However, the other prisoners 
managed to send Martin notes saying how much they respected him, 
and how sorry they were that he was in prison unjustly. Martin said 
their encouragement made him feel a little better, in spite of the 
wardens who were very brutal and abusive. Interestingly enough this 
was the only integrated cell block in the whole prison. 

When I got the news from A.D., I felt just terrible, so helpless! I 
started to think about how Martin must feel. My husband hated 
being alone. He loved people, and although he was able to discipline 
himself to get away from people, to do the thinking, writing, and 
planning that were necessary for the direction he gave the Movement, 
that was voluntary. He needed and depended upon the support of 
people he loved. It was always hard for Martin to be in prison, and this 
would be such a long stay, without Ralph or his other companions in 
the struggle with him. 

I knew that it was three hundred miles to Reidsville, more than a 
day's journey there and back, and I was so pregnant, I did not know 
if I could make it. Another thing upset me. I had sent Martin books 
and magazines but I had forgotten the money. I felt so guilty knowing 
he had no money to buy anything. So I said to Daddy King, "We 
must go to Reidsville today. Someone must see Martin today." 

But Daddy King was thinking in terms of practical things— of 
finding lawyers who could get Martin out of jail. He asked me to go 
with him to see the well-known and respected lawyer, Morris Abram, 
who had become a friend of ours during our struggle and who had 
been very helpful with civil-rights cases. 

As I was getting dressed to go to see Mr. Abram, the telephone 
rang. The person at the other end said, "May I speak to Mrs. Martin 
Luther King, Jr.? Just a minute, Mrs. King, for Senator Kennedy." 

Senator John F. Kennedy was in the final days of his campaign for 

19 6 My Life with 

President of the United States. I waited a few seconds, and a voice 
made familiar by scores of television broadcasts said, "Good morning, 
Mrs. King. This is Senator Kennedy." 

We exchanged greetings, and then Senator Kennedy said, "I want 
to express to you my concern about your husband. I know this must 
be very hard for you. I understand you are expecting a baby, and I 
just wanted you to know that I was thinking about you and Dr. 
King. If there is anything I can do to help, please feel free to call 
on me." 

"I certainly appreciate your concern," I said. "I would appreciate 
anything you could do to help." 

That was the gist of that famous conversation that has been 
said to have changed history and elected a President of the United 

At the time I did not know quite how to react, because I realized 
that the phone call could be used to political advantage. My husband 
had a policy of not endorsing presidential candidates, and at this 
point, I did not want to get him or myself identified with either party. 
I heard later that the Kennedy strategists had discussed having the 
candidate make a public statement which, of course, politicians from 
Georgia opposed, because I am told, they felt it might cause him to 
lose the South. I understand that one prominent Georgia politician had 
said something like, "If you leave this to me, I'll get King out of 
jail." But Senator Kennedy decided that at least he would call me. 

Well, things began to happen pretty fast after that. Reporters 
began calling to know what Senator Kennedy had said. At first, I 
was reluctant to talk with the press until after I had checked with 
someone from Senator Kennedy's campaign staff. Soon, I began to 
hear some encouraging reports about Martin's release. A.D. said, 
"I'd like to bet you M.L. will be out by tomorrow night." 

I said, "I don't want to bet. I don't want to think about it. I don't 

A.D. was right. I heard that Robert Kennedy called Judge Mitchell 
to learn why Dr. King couldn't be released on bail pending appeal. 
That story leaked out to the press, and evidently Judge Mitchell 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 1 9 7 

had a change of heart. Now, he said Martin would be released on 

I received the news about Martin's release around noon the next 
day, and I was very, very happy. SCLC chartered a plane to bring 
Martin home. We all went to the airport to meet him, and so little 
Marty did get to see his father come home from jail in an airplane. 

As we rode back to town together— Martin, Yoki, Marty, Mamma 
and Daddy King, Christine, and her husband, Isaac— Martin related 
his experiences and emotional reactions to confinement at Reidsville. 
Following the usual pattern for these occasions, a mass meeting was 
held that night at Ebenezer Church. People from all over town came. 
Martin told about his experiences in jail, but said nothing political. 
He resolved to continue in the struggle more determined than ever. 
However, Daddy King, who had been planning to vote for Nixon, 
had no such inhibitions. He roared out to the crowd, "If I had a suit- 
case full of votes, I'd take them all and place them at Senator 
Kennedy's feet." 

A few days later, John Kennedy was elected President of the 
United States by only about a hundred thousand votes. It is my 
belief that historians are right when they say that his intervention 
in Martin's case won the presidency for him. That seemed significant 
to me because of what happened later in the civil-rights struggle and 
the relationship of the Kennedys to what Martin was trying to ac- 



J he 

.he sit-ins continued throughout 
the South with considerable success. Integration was accomplished in 
hundreds of communities. Then, in March of 1961, the protests 
were extended into the Freedom Rides, designed to desegregate inter- 
state buses and bus terminals in the South. Although the Freedom 
Rides were primarily a CORE project, they had the backing of the 
SCLC and SNCC, and Martin served as chairman of the Freedom 
Rides Coordinating Committee. On April 28 James Farmer of CORE 
wrote to President Kennedy telling him the itinerary of the first 
Freedom Ride. On May 4 pairs of white and black volunteers, 
with a white observer from CORE, took Greyhound and Trailways 
buses for a trip through Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, 
and Mississippi to New Orleans. 

This well-advertised project seemed to infuriate southern reaction- 
aries beyond all reason. Bands of raging whites attacked the buses 
in cities in the deep southern states. The riders were hauled off, 
beaten up, and thrown into jails. In Anniston, Alabama, a roaring crowd 


attacked a Greyhound bus, smashed its windows with iron bars, 
punctured the tires, and threw an incendiary bomb into it. The bus 
was destroyed. 

This was the largest violent attack that the people of the Move- 
ment had experienced thus far. I remember seeing television pictures 
of the bus burning, and it was a gruesome, frightening thing. Martin 
was terribly concerned for the safety of our people. He also knew that 
the senseless violence of the whites could provoke our people to 

The Freedom Rides continued and the attacks grew in intensity. 
Martin ioined in appeals to the federal government for protection for 
the freedom riders. The Kennedy Administration assured us that they 
would stay in close touch with those developments. 

Meanwhile, another group of freedom riders was due to arrive in 
Montgomery on May 20. Martin went there to meet them. He told 
me how a mob of three hundred people surrounded the bus as it 
stopped. The first rider off was a white exchange student from Fisk 
University named James Zwerg. Women screamed, "Kill the nigger- 
loving son of a bitch." Men rushed in to knock him down and beat 
him unconscious. However, true to our nonviolent principles, James 
Zwerg made no attempt to defend himself. He lay unconscious in 
the street for an hour before an ambulance came. 

Others getting off the bus, including John Siegethaler of the Justice 
Department, now editor of the Nashville Tennessean, were beaten. 
Some were spirited safely away in cars driven by members of the 
Montgomery Improvement Association. For twenty horrible minutes 
the police did nothing to stop the terrible attacks on the people. 
Throughout the day there were eruptions of violence. Then, as dark- 
ness fell, the federal government sent six hundred United States 
marshals into the city to restore order. Governor John Patterson of 
Alabama contended that there was no need for federal intervention 
and threatened to arrest the marshals. "We can handle the situation 
ourselves," he said. Of course, the Governor's idea of how to handle 
the situation seemed to be to let the mob take over. 

Meanwhile, the radio announced that Martin Luther King, Jr., 

2 My Life with 

would hold a mass rally for the freedom riders at Ralph Abernathy's 
First Baptist Church. Twelve hundred whites and blacks were 
jammed into the church as carloads of angry white racists poured 
into Montgomery from the countryside. A crowd of several thousand 
surrounded the church. Martin said rocks began crashing through 
the stained-glass windows, showering the close-packed crowd with 
splintered glass. Maddened elements in the mob began shouting that 
the church should be burned. My husband rushed to the telephone 
and called Attorney General Robert Kennedy in Washington to 
send more marshals to help those already present, who seemed barely 
able to keep the crowd from breaking into the church. 

Martin stood before that brave and beleaguered assembly, and, 
while rocks continued to crash into the sanctuary, the people prayed, 
sang hymns and freedom songs, and "We Shall Overcome." 

After they had been besieged for several hours, things seemed 
quieter, and Martin decided to see if he could talk the crowd outside 
into letting them leave the church. He and Ralph Abernathy stepped 
through the front door. As Martin came out, a gas bomb whizzed by, 
within a few inches of his head. One of his aides who was very 
close to him, Rev. Fred C. Bennette, picked up the bomb and threw 
it out over Martin's shoulder. Someone pulled him back inside the 
church, and there he stayed, with all the people, through most of the 
night. This action was typical of the kind of devotion to Martin dis- 
played by many of the people closely associated with him in the Move- 
ment. Often, when there was the possibility that he would be injured, 
they would place themselves in the path of danger in an effort to 
protect him. Always unarmed, they were willing to give their own 
lives, if need be, in order to spare his. Martin's selfless devotion to the 
Cause inspired this response from them. Eventually the reinlorced 
marshals were able to disperse the mob, and by daylight the people 
were able to go home. But it was a night of horror and it was verj 
discouraging because it revealed the irrationality and cruelty of racism. 

That whole summer the Freedom Rides continued, and they ac- 
complished a good deal. Of course, many people were arrested, many 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 1 

whose names later became famous in the Movement. Among them 
were: SCLC's executive director, the Reverend Wyatt T. Walker and 
his wife, Ann; William Sloane Coffin, Jr., chaplain of Yale University, 
John Maguire, assistant provost at Wesleyan University; Jim Lawson, 
student leader at Vanderbilt University; James Farmer; C.T. Vivian, 
a leader in the Nashville Movement; Ralph Abernathy and Martin's 
brother, A.D.; and Stokely Carmichael, then a freshman in college. 

The Freedom Rides took the Movement from the college campuses, 
which were primarily located in cities, to the rural hamlets of the 
southland. The idealistic youth who went to Mississippi, Alabama, 
Louisiana, and southwest Georgia, were to give the Movement its 
broad rural base as they moved from campus to community. Thus, 
the Movement of southern ministers, who followed my husband's 
pattern of bus protests, gained a welcome ally in southern college 
students who committed themselves to nonviolent action. 

Martin asked some of these courageous young people to join the 
staff of SCLC. Wyatt Walker had come in 1960 as its executive 
director. He brought with him from our Petersburg, Virginia, affiliate, 
Dorothy Cotton and Jim Wood. Shortly afterward, came Bernard Lee, 
a former student of Alabama State College, who led the Movement 
there. He later became special assistant to Martin and traveled with 
him most of the time. From Montgomery, came Lillie Hunter, Martin's 
first secretary at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. His loyal, efficient, 
and dedicated personal secretary, Dora McDonald of Atlanta, served 
him for eight years. 

At about this time the Field Foundation gave a grant of forty-five 
thousand dollars for a voter-education program under the auspices of 
the United Church of Christ, and a young Negro minister, Andrew 
J. Young, was chosen to administer it in close association with Martin. 
Andy Young later joined the staff of SCLC and became one of 
Martin's closest friends and colleagues. He served first as administrative 
assistant to Martin; then as executive director of SCLC; and finally as 
executive vice-president, his present position and the one he held at 
the time of Martin's death. 

The Reverend James Bevel came to us from the Nashville Student 

2 2 My Life with 

Movement. Later his wife, the former Dianne Nash, also joined our 
staff. James Orange came from the Birmingham Youth Organization, 
while Willie Bolden, Lester Hankerson, and Ben Clark came by way 
of the Savannah Movement led by the dynamic Hosea Williams. 
Hosea, director of SCLC's Voter Registration Department, will per- 
haps be best remembered for his master-minding of the logistics 
for the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965. The Reverend C.T. 
Vivian came from the Nashville Movement and was director of affili- 
ates for SCLC, the position now held by the Reverend T.Y. Rogers, 
leader of the Tuscaloosa Movement and also director of our Ministers 
Leadership Training Program. Randolph Blackwell served as program 
director from 1964-66. Bernard Lafayette, the present program di- 
rector, is a product of the student movement. Walter Fauntroy, 
Washington Coordinator of the March on Washington, is director 
of SCLC's Washington Bureau. Septima Clark brought to the Citizen- 
ship Education Program valuable insights gained from her experiences 
teaching adult education in her native Charleston, South Carolina. 
Annel Ponder, with a background in social work, lent her skills to 
Citizenship Education, in particular, and the program of SCLC, in 

It is difficult to name everyone who contributed in some way to 
the success of SCLC. Yet, these people, and others whose names ap- 
pear in our story, are certainly among the most valuable persons who 
worked with my husband during his twelve and one hall years of 
struggle in the Movement. The combination of youth, intellect, and 
dedication, as well as wisdom, in the SCLC organization, created for 
the conference an enviable place among organizations working for 
social change. 

SCLC's next campaign led Martin to Albany, Georgia. Albany has 
about fifty odd thousand inhabitants, and is approximately 270 
miles southwest of Atlanta, in the heart of the hard core white racist 
country. It was then totally segregated. The Albany Movement, as it 
was generally called, was headed bv a respected Negro physician. 
William G. Anderson, and it was inspired by two very young SNCC 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 3 

field workers, Charles Sherrod and Cordell Reagan, who had estab- 
lished a voter-registration center there. Its sponsors were the Ministerial 
Alliance of Albany, the Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, 
SNCC, the local NAACP branch, and the Negro Voters League. 
The organization set out to copy the program of the Montgomery 
Improvement Association. 

On November 25, 1961, the Movement began when three black 
young people and two adults sat down in the bus terminal dining room 
and asked to be served. They were arrested. On December 10 a group 
of freedom riders, including SCLC's Youth Director, Bernard Lee, 
arrived to help a group who were trying to integrate the railroad 
station. They were jailed. Then, on December 15, a unit of the 
Georgia National Guard was mobilized at the request of Mayor Asa 
Kelly of Albany. Dr. Anderson telephoned Martin for help. 

The Albany Movement began before Martin became involved. 
Martin, who was then concentrating on the unification of a national 
Movement, did not feel that it was the time for our strength to be 
diffused in local confrontations which might better be settled by 
national action. Nevertheless, his conscience and his sense of the 
obligations of leadership made him go at once to try to help. 

Martin and Ralph Abernathy arrived in Albany that very evening 
after Dr. Anderson's call. The next morning they marched at the 
head of a procession of 250 people to the City Hall. Every one of the 
marchers was arrested. 

Negotiations followed this mass arrest. The city commissioners 
agreed to desegregate the bus terminal and railroad station, and in 
return the protesters agreed to halt mass demonstrations. The prisoners 
were released. At the end of December the bus company agreed to 
desegregate the buses, though the commissioners refused to make it 
official. Martin later thought that it would have been better strategy 
to have temporarily accepted these gains, and held back for a while 
until the community could peacefully adjust to the changes. But 
the leaders of the Albany Movement had tasted victory, and they 
wanted to continue, and Martin himself encouraged them to do so. 
He suggested a boycott of selected stores, but because he did not 

2 4 My Life with 

have the time to supervise the organization, it was largely ineffective. 

On February 27, 1962, Martin, Ralph, and several others were 
tried and convicted for leading the December march in Albany- They 
were not sentenced until July 10, when the judge gave Martin and 
Ralph the choice of a fine of $178 or forty-five days at hard labor. In 
accordance with their principles, both men refused to pay the fine, 
but, taking the example of Commissioner Clyde Sellers in Mont- 
gomery, someone was smart enough to pay their fines for them, and 
they were "ejected" from jail. 

Throughout that summer of 1962 the struggle continued in Albany, 
but the city commissioners were adamant against any further con- 
cessions. Rather than integrate the city parks, they closed them. 
They also closed the public library. 

One redeeming aspect of that period was that Police Chief Laurie 
Pritchett was not at all typical of southern policemen. He was not 
brutal, though some of his officers engaged in brutality. He tried to 
be decent, and as a person, he displayed kindness. He would allow 
the protesters to demonstrate up to a point. Then he would say, "Now 
we're going to break this up. If you don't disperse, you'll be arrested." 

Our people were given fair warning. Often they would refuse to 
disperse, and would drop on their knees and pray. Chief Pritchett 
would bow bis head with them while they prayed. Then, ol course, he 
would arrest them and the people would go to jail singing. 

Many people came from other states to help the Albany Movement. 
Seventy-five ministers, priests, and rabbis, black and white, Protestant, 
Catholic, and Jewish, came to pray and were arrested. In July there 
was a violent outburst when two thousand young people threw rocks 
and pop bottles at the police. Martin called for a "Day of Penitence" 
for this disorder. He also insisted that for the rest of the week direct 
action would be confined to prayer vigils. 

On July 27, Martin, Ralph, and Dr. Anderson led the first of 
these vigils. They were arrested and jailed. Their trial was set for 
August 10, which meant that they would be in prison for nearly two 

I was in Atlanta with our three children— our second son, Dexter, 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 5 

named for our beloved church in Montgomery, had been born in 
January, and was still an infant. I drove over from Atlanta to see 
Martin frequentlv- Chief Pritchett was very decent to the prisoners 
—though we knew of many instances of brutality inside the jail Irom 
bigoted white prison guards. He allowed food to be brought to them 
and he let Martin have books and a radio in his cell. The jail was very 
dirty, but they cleaned up the part he was in; I could smell the 
disinfectant every time I went there. 

One day, I took the two oldest children with me. It was the first 
time Yoki and Marty saw their father in jail. However, he was allowed 
out in the corridor to talk to them, so they did not see him behind 
bars. It did not seem to bother them at all. They played happily up 
and down the corridors. 

We all expected that the men would get a jail sentence at their 
trial. So when the idea was conceived that the wives of the leaders 
should lead a demonstration after the hearing, we were terribly excited. 

Juanita Abernathy; Andy Young's wife, Jean; Dr. Anderson's wife, 
Norma; Wyatt Walker's wife, Ann; Slater King's wife, Marian; C.B. 
King's wife, Carol; James Bevel's wife, Dianne, and I were going to 
lead the march. We thought that if we could get a number of women 
in jail it would be a dramatic way of getting our case before the 
American public, which might then put pressure on the local authori- 
ties. So strong was the support of the female contingent of the Albany 
Movement, that one member, Dianne Nash Bevel, who was nine 
months pregnant, refused to go home and had her baby in Albany 
during this period. 

But at the trial Martin and Ralph Abernathy were given suspended 
sentences and released. I must confess that I was very disappointed, 
because I had looked forward to going to jail the next day. 

Martin and Ralph were freed on a weekend, and they immediately 
began to organize a huge, massive demonstration for Monday. Some- 
how the word got out; I imagine our strategy meetings were bugged, 
and there were always lots of police around outside. This time the 
city officials succeeded in getting a federal injunction against the 

2 6 My Life with 

This was the first time local officials had ever succeeded in getting 
the federal courts to enjoin one of our demonstrations. I remember 
that my husband was much disturbed. He spent hours trying to decide 
whether to disobey the injunction or not. His argument had always 
been that we were breaking local laws in order to obey the federal 
law; this time, it was the federal law that was in question. The federal 
courts in the South had demonstrated their intention to be fair, but 
now we were confronted with a situation in which these very courts 
were enjoining us. Martin had to think the problem through very, 
very carefully and assess all the implications. 

Many of the leaders, especially the student leaders, felt Martin 
should disobey the injunction. Martin called Attorney General Robert 
Kennedy and also Burke Marshall of the Justice Department, and I 
remember he was quite annoyed because they did not seem to under- 
stand our plight. They suggested it might be wise to "close up" in 
Albany. Martin said, "You know, they just don't understand what 
we're up against." He was terribly disappointed. 

I remember quite vividly how he agonized that night after the mass 
meeting. The possibility of calling off the demonstration had already 
affected the morale of the staff and people involved in the Movement. 
Most of the staff came to sleep at Dr. Anderson's house, headquarters 
for the Albany Movement, and where we always stayed while there. 
Martin needed desperately to have a strategy session with his staff 
and workers. When he looked around, the key people had fallen 
asleep. The occasion reminded me of Christ and the experience with 
His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemanc. I felt deeply for Martin. 
We finally went to bed, and his was indeed a restless night. 

Out of his agony and prayerful deliberation he decided not to 
march. Later he felt that this was the factor that broke the backbone 
of the Albany Movement. When they could not demonstrate, the 
Movement lost its momentum. 

Martin was to regret this decision. He later said, "Now that they're 
successful in getting a federal injunction, they're going to do it over 
and over again; and that means we will be stymied." 

My husband was severely criticized by some people for obeying 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 7 

this federal ruling. Yet, since the federal government had always sup- 
ported us on Constitutional questions, it was difficult for Martin to go 
against it. It had been the only friend we had had in the South. 

Though we had many problems with the Albany Movement, it 
gave the people of Albany a new sense of dignity and respect, and an 
awareness of their plight that they did not have before. The success 
was not as dramatic as it was in Montgomery, and did not make the 
national impact of Montgomery, but each community has to be in- 
volved in its own struggle for freedom. The Movement in Albany did 
lay the groundwork for many later reforms in southwest Georgia. 

The freedom spirit spread rapidly to surrounding counties. Also, 
the SCLC staff learned many valuable lessons in community mobiliza- 
tion which were soon to bear fruit in Birmingham. 




. n order to tell a consecutive story 
about the Movement in the South, I have concentrated on that, but 
all the time those things were happening— the sit-ins, the protests, 
the jailings— our lives were going forward on several other levels. 
Martin was rushing about the country making speeches to gain moral 
and financial support for the Movement. I was giving concerts and 
also making speeches to help our Cause. 

In late March of 1962, while the Albany Movement was in lull 
swing, I was invited by the Women's Strike for Peace to go as a 
delegate to Geneva, Switzerland, for an international effort to influ- 
ence the atomic-test-ban talks going on there. Even in my college 
days I had taken an active interest in promoting world peace through 
the Quaker peace groups at Antioch. Later when we moved to Atlanta 
I joined the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 
and I have remained close to that organization. 1 was. and still am, 
convinced that the women of the world, united without any regard 
for national or racial divisions, can Income a most powerful lorce lor 
international peace and brotherhood. 


Of course, my husband had always been concerned about the 
entire question of world peace, but he had become so completely 
involved in the civil-rights struggle that he had less time for the peace 
movement than I. 

Thus, I wanted very much to go to Geneva, but at first I did 
not see how I could arrange my schedule to do so. The meeting was 
to last a week, and I was committed to giving a concert in Cincinnati 
on the Sunday the delegation was supposed to return. Also, I remember 
thinking that I would have to get some reliable person to take care 
of the children for that week. When I discussed the problems with 
my husband, he said, "I think you should try to go if it is at all 
possible. It would be a very meaningful experience for you. I really 
encourage you to go." 

After Martin said that, I arranged to join the fifty American 
women who went to Geneva. There were professional women, 
mothers who had never before been active politically and other 
women who had been very actively engaged in the peace movement. 
There were four black women in the group. When I met the delega- 
tion on the plane, I realized they were a very stable, intelligent and 
level headed group of women. In Geneva we were joined by women 
from other countries— Scandinavians, English, Australians, and Rus- 
sians. Of course, the American women formed a majority. 

We were all deeply concerned with stopping war and, in particular, 
with getting a test-ban treaty. We felt that this would be the first 
step and one that was enormously important for the welfare of our 

We Americans met with the United States representative, Arthur 
Dean. Unfortunately we did not get a very warm reception. Mr. Dean's 
attitude was hard and unsympathetic. He seemed to regard us as 
"hysterical females," and he acted as if he were determined not to be 
influenced by any emotionalism we might display. In truth, we were 
upset, but the issue of radioactive fallout from atmospheric tests as 
it affected our children's milk, their bone structure, their life itself, 
was a serious and disturbing matter. 

Mr. Dean acted as though he felt that what we were asking was 

2 10 My Life with 

so impossible that he did not even bother to consider it. We were 
deeply hurt but this feeling was intensified because our own repre- 
sentative, the American spokesman, did not seem to realize that he 
held his appointment in order to serve the wishes of the people and 
that we represented a large segment of our country who wanted a 
no-test agreement. 

Finally, just before he stormed out of our meeting, he said angrily, 
"You go talk to the Russians. We've tried. Why don't you talk to 

We did just that; all of us met with the Russian delegation, and 
I must confess that it was much more congenial. They held a reception 
in our honor and then we talked, and the dialogue seemed very 
encouraging. The contrast between our treatment by the Russians and 
by our own delegation was striking. 

Of course, we were not so naive that we were not aware that 
the Russians were masters of the art of propaganda and knew just 
how to treat us so we would react positively— regardless of their 
actual motives. Nevertheless, we felt it was unfortunate that our own 
representative had not been more interested or even attempted a 
meaningful discussion with us. Yet, we represented many women who 
had strong influence and a deep concern for the welfare of this nation 
and the world. 

During this period, of course, Martin and I, like any other young 
couple, were vitally absorbed with raising our children. However, we 
shared with our black brothers and sisters the especially demanding 
and often agonizing job of bringing our children up without fear or 
bitterness in their hearts. That is difficult enough in a segregated city, 
as Atlanta was, but our activities in the Movement made it doubly 

Yoki would sometimes come home and say, "Mommy, I'm so 
tired of having people ask me, 'Are you Martin Luther King's daugh- 
ter?' " 

I would try to explain to her on a level she could understand 
that this would happen, m>! because her lather was notorious, but 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 11 

because of the good he was doing for all people. I would say, "Yoki, 
people ask you that because they think well of your father." 

Still, it was difficult to strike a balance for my children between 
the many aspects of our position that pulled upon them. One of the 
difficult aspects of growing up is the manner in which children can 
unwittingly inflict cruelties upon each other. As a young child, 
Yolanda displayed unusual perception of her situation, and a unique 
ability to handle her own problems. 

One day she came home from school with a look of satisfaction on 
her face. She told me that she had just "got tired of the whole thing" 
and that when, during the day, her teacher stepped out of the class- 
room, Yoki had turned to the other children and said, "Look, all I 
want is just to be treated like a normal child." 

Watching that sensible and proud little seven-year-old, I laughed 
to myself and said, "Good for you." She had articulated, in her child- 
ish wisdom, exactly what Martin and I had in mind for our chil- 

His name has been a special problem for our son Marty. First, he 
has had to learn to be his own person, though he carries his daddy's 
well-known name. Then, since we lived in the South, he had to 
cope with the hostility his name evoked in some of the whites around 

Once, when Marty had been in an integrated school for about a 
year, I drove down, with Dexter, to pick him up after a Saturday- 
morning football game. As boys will do, the two of them wandered 
off, and I had to call them away from two bigger white boys to whom 
they were talking. 

They got into the car, and Marty blurted out, "Mommy, do you 
see those big boys over there? They asked me what my father's name 
was, and, Mommy, what I did was, I told them I had forgotten." 

My heart bled for him and I said gently, "Marty, you know what 
your father's name is. Why did you tell them that?" 

Marty dropped his head onto his shoulders. He replied, "Well, 
Mommy, you see I was afraid they'd beat me up." 

I was painfully aware at that moment that it must sometimes be 

2 12 My Life with 

a terrible thing for our little son to know that if he lets his identity 
be known, he will meet with hostility. 

How I prayed that he would not be harmed by this! I resolved to 
be alert as I could and to help him with this special and so poignant 

Marty was in the third grade when Yoki and Marty first attended 
an integrated school and on the second day of school, a boy in his 
class came up to him and said, "Say, what's your father's name?" He 
answered proudly, "Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.," and the little boy 
said, "Oh! Your father's that famous nigger." Marty said, "The word 
is 'Negro,' " and that seemed to be the end of it. 

More than anything, he seemed to have been embarrassed at the 
use of the word "nigger," which Martin and I had tried to explain to 
our children in a way that would keep them from the traditional 
hateful response— "And you're a Georgia cracker"— and yet would 
help them retain their own pride in themselves and their race. 

At one point we had a funny echo of this after our children and 
the Abernathy children had been called "niggers" at the downtown 
Atlanta YWCA, where they were attending a summer program— it 
was shortly after the YWCA had been integrated. 

The children were telling me about the incident, and I guess I 
was groping a bit to find the right words to say to them. 

Dexter, who was four at the time, broke in and said, "Mommy, 
you know why some people say 'nigger'? Some people say 'nigger' 
because they don't know how to say 'Negro.' " "You are exactly right, 
Dexter," I answered. 

How hard it is, and how crucially important, for black children to 
be taught a sense of their own worth that is strong enough to with- 
stand the pressure of a white society which every day tries to show 
them that they are inferior. 

Of course, I think our children were helped in this regard by the 
knowledge that their parents were lighting haul lor racial justice. 
Even so, we had to think about what we were doing so as to protect 
our children from the humiliation of being excluded. For example, I 
might be driving through a white neighborhood with Yoki in the car 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 13 

when she was three or four years old, and we would pass a playground. 
Yoki would call out, "Mommy, please stop the car. Look at the swings. 
I want to stop and swing." 

I would never stop. The playgrounds we passed were for white 
children only. I would say something like, "We have to get home 
and have lunch, dear," to try to spare her a little, to give her time 
to develop her own inner strength before confronting the terrible 
problem of being black in America. 

Martin sometimes mentioned in his speeches one of the incidents 
with our children that hurt us most. A new amusement park had 
been built in Atlanta, called Funtown, and it was advertised exten- 
sively. My children would watch television and see so many com- 
mercials for Funtown that they even learned to sing the lyrics of the 

They would plead with us to take them, and we would keep 
making excuses, not wanting to tell them that the television invitations 
were not meant for black children. Martin would say, "Not this week, 
children. I have to go on a trip," or some such thing, week after week, 
until finallv Yoki, who was about six at the time, said, "You just don't 
want to take me to Funtown." 

I hated the hurt look in her eyes, and I told her, "Yolanda, Fun- 
town was built by people who decided that they did not want colored 
people to come there. They were not good Christians. You see, we are 

My daughter started crying, then I heard myself echoing those 
old words: "Yoki dear, this doesn't mean you are not as good as those 
people. You know, God made all of us and we are all His children. 
He made some white, some brown, some black, some red, and some 
yellow. He must have thought a lot of his colored children because 
he made so many. Don't cry because it won't be long before you 
can go to Funtown. This is really what your daddy is doing in all 
his work; he is trying to make it possible for you to go to Funtown 
and for you to go any other place you want to go." This was her 
first emotional realization and understanding of being black in a white 

2 14 My Life with 

This was the first time Yoki realized that as a black child there 
were places she could not go. She cried because it hurt her, yet it 
helped her to understand that her father was working to do something 
about these conditions— that things could be changed. Even his 
absences became more meaningful to her. 

Much after this episode, we heard, in the spring of 1963, that 
Funtown had been quietly desegregated, and Martin and I decided 
to take Yoki, Marty, and Dexter, who was now old enough to join 
us. The children were just bursting with excitement and anticipa- 
tion. They— and Martin— had a glorious time. Thev went on all the 
rides, and Martin was just as boyishly happy as he had been at 
Revere Beach in Boston, many years ago during our first year of 

While we were at Funtown, a white woman came up to me and 
asked, "Are you Mrs. King?" 

I told her I was, and she said, "Oh, I'm so glad you are here. Is 
your daughter with your" 

"This is my daughter, Yolanda," I answered. 

The woman looked at her and said again, "I'm so glad you're here," 
and walked away. 

When we left, I kept thinking how wonderful it was that the 
children had been able to see that what their daddy was doing had 
brought concrete results in their own lives. 

In many other areas, black parents lace much more subtle prob- 
lems. The whole concept of beauty based on white standards is a 
particularly destructive difficulty. In our society— commercials, movies 
—everything emphasizes the desirability of Caucasian features, lair 
skin, straight hair, keen nose, thin lips. All this is beautiful; and if 
you do not fit the type, you are not beautiful. During and since the 
days of slavery, a fair skin has made a difference. Mulatto children 
were better treated by their masters— and sometimes even by their 
own victimized parents— than those who were dark skinned. 

The emergence and gradual acceptance of the "black is beautiful" 
concept is the most emotionally and psychologically constructive 
weapon with which the black child can he armed. 1 have always been 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 15 

very much aware of how important it is for our children to develop a 
healthy and proper attitude toward the color of their skin. I thought 
I had succeeded in this regard until one day when Yolanda was seven 
she said, "Mommy, why is it that white people are pretty and Negroes 
are ugly?" 

I gasped in dismay, "But, Yolanda, that's not true. There are 
pretty people in all races." "No," she said, vehemently. "White people 
are pretty and Negroes are ugly." 

I picked up a copy of Ebony magazine that happened to be on a 
table. I sat down with her, and we looked through the pages. I 
would say, "See her, see how beautiful she is!" Or, "Oh, isn't he hand- 
some?" Yoki kept murmuring, "Mmm-mmm." When we finished the 
magazine, she said, "You know, colored people are pretty, and white 
people are ugly." 

I almost shouted, "Oh no! That's not right either." I had to start 
all over again. 

Yet "getting it right" was what our fight was all about, wasn't it? 
This is why we can't wait, as our white fellow citizens sometimes urge 
us to. For my children, like any other children in the world, have 
only one life to live, one education to get, one chance at dignity and 
peace. That is why we need freedom now, not ten years from now. 
In ten years Yoki and Marty and Dexter and Bunny will be well 
through their schooling, and if we had waited, for example, for the 
southern school systems to integrate, it would have meant that, in 
fact, they would have been irrevocably deprived of an equal educa- 

To ask us to "be patient," to ask that of any parents, black or 
white, is to ask that we deprive our children of their birthright. 

In spite of Martin's being away so much, he was wonderful with 
his children, and they adored him. When Daddy was home it was 
something special. Occasionally when I had to go to a church meet- 
ing, or do some shopping, Martin would baby-sit, and how they loved 
that! They had a wild time together. They often played on the bed. 
1 he children would roughhouse and jump on top of him. I might 
come into my bedroom and find all our family sitting on top of him. 

2 16 My Life with 

I must admit that I occasionally got cross about things being thrown 
helter-skelter in the room and the house almost dismantled, but Mar- 
tin would appear to be so surprised at my annoyance, which always 
completely disarmed me. 

When Yoki was very young, Martin invented a game in which 
he would put her on top of the refrigerator and tell her to jump, and 
then he would catch her in his arms. She loved it! She would say, 
"Let's go up," which meant being put on top of the refrigerator. It 
frightened me so because I thought someday he might miss his catch. 
But he never did— even as Marty, Dexter, and Bunny came along, 
they all had their turn at the game. 

One of the games which gave me the greatest pleasure to watch 
was a kissing game between Bunny and Martin. Whenever Martin 
came home, as soon as he entered the doorway Bunny would run 
and swing into his arms. He would stoop to lift her up and say, "Give 
me some good old sugar!" With her arms around his neck, she would 
smack him on the mouth. He had previously taught her where the 
sugar spot was for each person in the family. He would then say, 
"I bet you don't know where Yoki's sugar is!" She would then smack 
him on the right side of his mouth. "Where is Dexter's sugar?" Then 
she kissed him on the right cheek. Next he would say, "I know you 
don't know where Marty's sugar is!" She would quickly kiss him on 
the forehead. "I just know you've forgotten where Mommy's sugar 
is!" She would kiss him in the center of his mouth. Finally, he would 
say, "And Bunny doesn't have any sugar." "Yes, I do!" And with a 
loud smack, she would kiss him on the right cheek. \\ hen she 
found all the designated sugar spots, which she always did quickly, 
the game ended. 

There were a few quiet evenings, too, when Martin would read 
to the children from their favorite books. Whatever he did, they were 
happy just being with him. 

Martin was also very much involved in his duties as co-pastor at 
Ebenezer during this period and of course his work in the Movement 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 17 

The lessons we had learned in Albany made for our eventual 
success in Birmingham. In May, 1962, at a board meeting of SCLC 
in Nashville, Rev. Fred Shuttlesvvorth proposed that our organization 
join his Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights in a massive 
campaign against segregation in Birmingham. The board of SCLC 
agreed to his proposal, but delayed action until early in 1963. 

It was a daring decision. Birmingham was a great manufacturing 
center, the richest city in Alabama. Most of its white people and the 
city officials were adamantly opposed to integration of any sort. Mayor 
Arthur Hanes was an arch-segregationist, and Commissioner of Pub- 
lic Safety Eugene (Bull) Connor was a virulent racist whose nick- 
name aptly characterized his brutality. To make things worse, George 
Wallace was elected governor of Alabama in November, 1962. His 
campaign slogan was "Segregation Forever." Although forty percent 
of Birmingham's population was black, there were only ten thousand 
registered voters out of eighty thousand. In the preceding five years 
(1957-62) there had been seventeen unsolved bombings of Negro 
churches and homes. Local racists intimidated, mobbed, and even killed 
Negroes with impunity. Martin had said, "It is the most thoroughly 
segregated city in America. All the evils and injustices the Negro 
can be subjected to are right there in Birmingham." 

On the other hand, Fred Shuttlesworth, who was a fearless man, 
had dared to send his children to public schools and tried to desegre- 
gate them. He had been beaten and his home and his church had been 
bombed. His wife had been jailed and beaten; his whole family had 
suffered terribly. By this time he was a genuine symbol of the struggle 
for social justice. 

Reverend Shuttlesworth's organization was one of SCLC's strong- 
est affiliates in the South. In January, 1962, the students of Miles 
College joined with them to begin a boycott of segregated stores in 
Birmingham. They had made significant progress. Martin believed 
that although "the campaign in Birmingham would surely be the 
toughest fight of our civil-rights career, it could, if successful, break 
the back of segregation all over the nation." 

After a three-day planning session of SCLC's high command, in 

2 18 My Life with 

which "Project C" was outlined, Martin went to Birmingham with 
Wyatt Tee Walker, executive director of SCLC, Ralph Abernathy, 
and Andy Young, early in March, 1963, and set up headquarters in 
Room 30 of the Gaston Motel in the black ghetto. There they met 
with Fred Shuttlesworth and his colleagues to map their strategy. 
The SCLC convention had met in Birmingham in September of 
1962 and this gave impetus to the desegregation efforts in that city. 
Field staff from SCLC began working in Birmingham in January of 
1963. Since Albany had proved that the scatter-gun attack on segrega- 
tion was impractical, they decided to concentrate on more specific 
objectives— the desegregation of lunch counters, dressing rooms, and 
rest rooms, and the reform of hiring practices of Birmingham's big 
downtown stores. The protest demonstrations were set to start on 
March 12, 1963, to disrupt Easter shopping. Actually, we also de- 
layed because an election was to take place on March 5, in which Bull 
Connor would oppose two comparatively moderate candidates, Albert 
Boutvvell and Tom King, for mayor of Birmingham. Martin did not 
want to do anything that might help Connor. 

Meanwhile the work of organization went forward meticulously. 
Andy Young, James Bevel, Dorothy Cotton, and James Orange of 
our staff had already begun to prepare the community through mass 
meetings and workshops on nonviolence. Their functions also in- 
cluded recruiting people for the proposed demonstrations. Martin, 
Ralph, and Wyatt Walker made constant trips to Birmingham. 

People who would be willing to go to jail were asked to sign a 
commitment card that read: 

I hereby pledge myself my person .mil my body— to the nonviolent 
movement. Therefore, I will keep the following ten commandments: 

1. Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus. 

2. Remember always that the nonviolent movement in Birmingham 
seeks justice and reconciliation— not victory. 

3. Walk and talk in the manner of love; Foi Cod is love. 

4. Pray daily to be used by Cod in order that all men might be free. 

5. Sacrifice personal wishes that all men might be free. 

6. Observe with both friend and foe the ordinal) rules of courtesy. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 19 

7. Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world. 

8. Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, and heart. 

9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health. 

10. Follow the directions of the movement and of the captains on a 

Meanwhile, Harry Belafonte called a meeting of seventy-five 
prominent people in his New York apartment. Martin and Fred 
Shuttlesworth spoke to them of the difficulties and dangers of the 
Birmingham protest. Fred, wearing the scars of other battles, told 
them, "You have to be prepared to die before you can begin to live." 

People of goodwill all over the country asked, "What can we do 
to help?" 

Martin told them that many thousands of dollars would be 
needed to post bail bonds. A committee was formed. Our Los Angeles 
affiliate, the Western Christian Leadership Conference, also raised 
a great deal of money, as did our Virginia affiliate, and the Legal 
Defense Fund fought our cases in court. 

In January, 1963, my husband, Ralph Abernathy, and Fred 
Shuttlesworth, had a conference with President Kennedy and At- 
torney General Robert Kennedy at the White House to urge the fed- 
eral government to initiate civil-rights legislation in 1963. The Ken- 
nedys were, as always, sympathetic, but they said they had no plans for 
proposing any civil-rights legislation in 1963. The President said he 
was going to propose some important domestic legislation, and he 
feared that anything in the civil-rights area would divide the Congress 
and imperil these bills. 

Naturally, Martin was very disappointed. He felt he had no choice 
but to go ahead with his plans to force a confrontation in Birmingham 
so that the federal government would have to act. He frankly told 
the President his intentions, because if white violence erupted we 
would need the support and help of the federal government. He 
wanted the President to be informed in advance. 

In the election in Birmingham on March 5, 1963, Boutwell led, 
with Connor second, and Tom King third. Since no candidate had 
a majority, there had to be a runoff between Boutwell and Connor. 

2 2 My Life with 

On April 2, Martin again delayed the start of the protest until after 
the runoff. 

This time Boutwell won a clear majority, but Connor claimed 
some legal technicality whereby the new city government could not 
take office until 1964. While all this was being decided in the courts, 
the old officials remained in office, with Connor as commissioner for 
public safety. Martin felt he could delay the demonstrations no longer. 
The Birmingham Movement began. 

We were expecting the arrival of our fourth child at any moment. 
My husband was constantly out of town making speeches all over 
the country, and the time was fast approaching when he would have 
to move into Birmingham. I had been afraid he would have to go 
before my baby came, but Bernice Albertine— Bunny, as Martv called 
her, and so did we all— was born on March 28. Martin was there to 
take me to the hospital, but the next day, after the baby was born, 
he left for Birmingham. Then he dashed back to Atlanta in time to 
bring me home from the hospital, but left the same evening for his 

It is at times like these that friends are most needed and appre- 
ciated. Rachael Ward, a member of the Ebenezer Church, and also a 
very dear friend, was always as near as the telephone. She kept the 
other children at home while I went to the hospital to have Bunny. 
Though she had her own beauty shop and continued to operate it 
through this period, she was on hand to help with the baby and 
assist with the other household chores until I was strong enough to 
take over myself. 

Though it was difficult for me at the time, I had tried to prepare 
myself for Martin being away most of the time during my recupera- 
tion. I suppose that with each new baby a wife wants her husband to 
be there to share this experience, even though, in my own case, I 
had gone through the experience three times before. However, I 
recognized that what Martin was doing could not be delayed and that 
it was so important that he be in Birmingham. As a matter of fact, 
I deeply regretted that circumstances had prevented me from being 
there with him. I knew that he had anticipated the possibility of 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 2 1 

going to jail and I was deeply concerned that I would not be there 
to comfort him. Of course, that is exactly what happened. 

In Birmingham, Martin found some resistance to SCLC's pro- 
gram in the black community itself. Under the system of complete 
segregation, this attitude was not uncommon. There were several 
reasons. One was that the black masses had been brainwashed into 
accepting the idea that it was impossible to fight the system. The sec- 
ond was that a few of the Birmingham Negro leaders felt the timing 
was poor— that the new Boutwell government should be given a 
chance. Also there was slight resentment among local leaders of 
"outsiders" running the show. Martin spoke to meeting after meeting 
to counter these objections. As he said later, "Somehow God gave 
me the power to transform the resentments, the suspicions, the fears 
and the misunderstandings . . . into faith and enthusiasm. ... A 
new order was destined to be born and not all the powers of bigotry 
or Bull Connor could absorb it." 

The protest started on April 3, 1963, with lunch counter sit-ins. 
In the first three days alone, thirty-five people were arrested. On Sat- 
urday, April 6, an orderly march of carefully selected demonstrators 
moved toward City Hall. They were stopped three blocks from their 
goal. Forty-two people were arrested for parading without a permit. 
They were politely escorted to the paddy wagon and driven to jail. 
They were singing freedom songs while thousands of Negroes cheered 
them from the sidewalks. 

After that, demonstrations were staged every day with increasing 
strength. Thus far, Bull Connor's police had behaved very well while 
making the arrests. Between four and five hundred black people were 
arrested, and though some got out on bail, about three hundred re- 
mained in jail. 

During this time Martin was trying to get the merchants and the 
Birmingham city officials to negotiate our very moderate demands 
—desegregation of store facilities, upgrading and hiring of Negroes 
on a nondiscriminatory basis, dropping of charges against the im- 
prisoned protesters, and creation of a biracial committee to work out 
a timetable for further desegregation in Birmingham. The business- 

2 2 2 My Life with 

men were willing to negotiate at this point. The city officials were not. 

On Wednesday these city officials obtained an injunction against 
the demonstrators, but it was issued bv an Alabama state court, not 
a federal court. Martin promptly announced that the injunction would 
be disobeyed. He pointed out that the Negroes were not "anarchists 
advocating lawlessness," but that the courts of Alabama had misused 
the judicial process. He said that "we could not in good conscience 
obey their mandate." As a countermove, the courts announced that 
bail bonds would no longer be accepted, but that it would be neces- 
sary to post cash. As it happened, our organization was fresh out of 

Martin had set Good Friday, April 12, for the day that he and 
some of the other leaders would provoke arrest by breaking the in- 
junction. He had deliberately chosen that day because of its symbolic 
and religious significance. Early that morning a tempestuous meeting 
of the leaders took place in the Gaston Motel. Daddy King and A.D. 
were there too. Among the other ministers and leaders present were 
Fred Shuttlesworth, Wyatt Walker, Nelson Smith, John Porter, 
James Bevel, Edward Gardner, and businessman John Drew. Several 
of the ministers felt that they should obey the injunction. Ralph Aber- 
nathy pointed out that he was the only pastor of his church and would 
be unable to perform his duties at this holy season of the year. Martin, 
on the other hand, was co-pastor of Ebenezer, and his lather could 
carry on. 

Martin recognized the validity of this argument. At the same time, 
he remembered that obeying the federal injunction had wrecked the 
Albany Movement. After a long discussion he said, "1 want to medi- 
tate about this decision." 

For half an hour the others waited while Martin thought and 
prayed alone in his room. When he came out he was wearing work 
clothes— blue jeans and a shirt— and his face was set in the stern lines 
of his resolve. "I've decided to take a leap of faith. I've decided to 
go to jail. I don't know what's going to happen; I don't know whether 
this Movement will continue to build up or whether it will collapse. 
If enough people are willing to go to jail, I believe it will force the 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 2 3 

city officials to act or force the federal government to act. So I'm 
going today." 

Then Martin turned to Ralph Abernathy and said, "I know you 
want to be in your pulpit on Easter Sunday, Ralph, but I am asking 
you to go with me." 

Ralph said, "Well, you know, I have always been in jail with 
you, Martin, and I can't leave you at this point." 

The twenty-five men in Room 30 all linked hands and sang "We 
Shall Overcome." Then Martin embraced his father and they all 
drove to the Zion Hill Church, where the march was scheduled to 
start. As they came into the church, the people were singing and pray- 
ing. Martin went directly to the pulpit to tell them of his decision. 

There is no exact record of his words, but people told me afterward 
that he made a very dramatic and moving address. He said that things 
were so bad in Birmingham that he had decided they could be changed 
only by the redemptive influence of suffering. Then Martin spoke 
of wanting to be a good servant of his Lord and Master, who was 
crucified on Good Friday. He told the brothers and sisters that he 
had decided to go to jail. 

As he left the pulpit and walked down the aisle, women and men 
were calling their response. Someone shouted, "There he goes, just 
like Jesus." And people poured out into the aisle and followed him. It 
was tremendously moving. 

Martin wrote of this experience: "It seemed that every Birming- 
ham police officer had been sent into the area. Leaving the church 
... we started down the forbidden streets that lead to the downtown 
sector. It was a beautiful march. We were allowed to walk farther 
than the police had ever permitted before. . . . All along the way 
Negroes lined the streets. We were singing, and they were joining 
in. Occasionally the singing from the sidewalks was interspersed with 

"As we neared the downtown area, Bull Connor ordered his men 
to arrest us. Ralph and I were hauled off by two muscular policemen, 
clutching the backs of our shirts in handluls. All the others were 
promptly arrested." 

2 2 4 My Life with 

For the first time in going to jail, Ralph and Martin were separated. 
Each of them was held in solitary confinement. Not even the lawyers 
were permitted to see them. "Those hours were," he said, "the longest 
and most frustrating and bewildering of my life." He was besieged 
with worry about his friends, about the fate of the Movement, and 
about me and our brand-new baby, and the other children at home. 

Back in Atlanta, I waited anxiously to hear from Martin. When 
I got the news that Martin had been arrested that Friday afternoon, 
I just knew he would telephone me from jail, which was always the 
first thing he did after he was arrested. No call came. All the next 
day I waited. Then it was Easter Sunday morning. In Birmingham 
Martin's brother A.D. held Easter service in his church. Then, wear- 
ing his ministerial robes and carrying the Bible, he led a group of 
worshipers toward the city jail, where they intended to pray for Martin 
and his fellow prisoners. They were arrested after marching only a 
few blocks. 

Still I had heard nothing. In desperation I telephoned Wyatt 
Walker in Birmingham. He said, "Coretta, I haven't been able to get 
a phone message through to Martin. I've tried all day. They are not 
even allowing his lawyers to see him now. They're holding him in- 

I asked, "Wyatt, do you think if I made a statement to the press 
about this situation it would help?" 

Wyatt answered, "Do you know what I think you should do? I 
think you ought to call the President." 

I thought about it and said, "I will try if you think I should, but 
first I wish you would try to check with Martin to see if it's all right 
with him, because I wouldn't want to do it if he didn't approve." 

That was the first Easter Sunday in my adult life that I was not 
able to go to church; but Easter had more meaning for me than ever 
before because of this particular experience. I was terribly anxious 
about Martin's safety and wondered what was happening to him. I 
waited and waited for Wyatt to call back. Finally he did. He said, 
"It's no use, Coretta. I can't get through to Martin. You have no 
alternative but to call the President." 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 2 5 

I called the White House several times to see if I could get a 
number in West Palm Beach, where the President was reportedly 
staying, but each time the operator would say, "I have no number for 
the President or members of his family at West Palm Beach." 

I thought, now whom should I call? 

I told the operator to try Vice-President Johnson, but he too was 
out of the city. Quite frantically I said, "There must be someone I 
could call who would be able to help me get to the President." 

Since she was a kind and sympathetic woman, the operator said, 
'What about Pierre Salinger?" 

Immediately I reached Pierre Salinger, who told me that he would 
make every effort to get in touch with the President and get him to 
call me. While I was waiting, Harry Belafonte called and said, "I 
was just thinking about you and the children. I don't want you to 
worry about Martin." 

I said, "I haven't heard from him, and I am deeply concerned. 
As a matter of fact, I have just tried to reach the President." 

Harry was a little alarmed at that. But I explained that all I had 
wanted to do was to tell the President how anxious I was about Mar- 
tin's safety. I explained to Harry that I had thought the matter through 
carefully and had decided it was right to seek some intercession so 
that my husband could talk to me. I reassured Harry that I would in 
no way give the impression that I was trying to get Martin out of jail. 
We both knew that he would certainly not want that. 

I was awfully depressed, and I told Harry the problems I was 
having— the telephone ringing all the time, with people concerned 
about Martin as well as about me, and at the same time I was trying 
to take care of my children and the new baby, and wanting desperately 
to go to Birmingham to be near my husband. Harry listened and took 
charge. He, good friend that he is, told me to hire a secretary and a 
nurse, at his expense, and he added that he wanted to go to Birming 
ham with me. 

While we were talking my other telephone rang, and when I an- 
swered, a familiar voice said, "Mrs. King, this is Attorney General 
Robert Kennedy. I am returning your call to my brother. The Presi- 

2 2 6 My Life with 

dent wasn't able to talk to you because he's with mv father who is 
quite ill. He wanted me to call you to find out what we can do for 

I poured out a rush of words: "I was calling because I am con- 
cerned about my husband. As you probably know, he is in jail in 
Birmingham, and he's been there since Friday. At this point, no one 
is able to see him. Usually they let him telephone me, but I have 
heard nothing from him directly. I understand that he and Rev. 
Abernathy are being held incommunicado, and I am awfully worried. 
I wondered if the President could check into the situation and see if 
he's all right." 

I tried to make it clear that I was concerned about Martin's safety 
and was not asking for his release. I explained that, at first, they had 
allowed his lawyer to talk with him and that it was my understanding 
that Martin was sleeping on bare steel springs, without blankets or 
a pillow. 

Attorney General Kennedy said, "Well, I'm sorry you have not 
been able to talk to your husband, but I'll tell you, Mrs. King, we 
have a difficult problem with the local officials. Bull Connor is very 
hard to deal with. Maybe after the new city government takes over 
we can get something done in Birmingham. But I promise you I will 
look into the situation and let you know something." 

The Attorney General seemed deeply concerned and I felt better 
after I hung up, because there seemed some chance that something 
might be done. 

But it was not until the next day, Monday, that I heard anything 
more. At about five o'clock in the afternoon the telephone rang, and 
as I picked up the receiver, I heard little two-year-old Dexter babbling 
away on the extension. The operator said, "Will you get your child 
off the phone, please." I had someone get him off the phone, and 
waited until a voice came on saying, "Hello, Mrs. King. I'm sorry 
I wasn't able to talk to you yesterday. I understand my brother called 
you. I just wanted you to know that I was with my father who is ill 
and couldn't leave him." 

By that time I realized it was President Kennedy. In the con- 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 2 7 

fusion about Dexter I had not heard the operator announce him. I 
told him I was sorry that his father was ill, and the President asked 
how I was and explained that he knew I'd just had a baby. 

I answered, "I am all right, but I'm terribly concerned about my 

President Kennedy said, "I know you'll be interested in knowing 
that we sent the FBI into Birmingham last night. We checked on 
your husband, and he's all right." And the President said, "Of course, 
Birmingham is a very difficult place." 

He talked a little while about the situation there and the city 
officials. Then he added, "I want you to know we are doing every- 
thing we can. I have just talked to Birmingham, and your husband 
will be calling you shortly. If you have any further worries about your 
husband or about Birmingham in the next few days, I want you to 
feel free to call me. You can get me or my brother or Mr. Salinger. 
You know how to get me now." 

I could hardly thank him enough. What relief he had brought 
to my heart. I could hardly wait for the telephone to ring. Within 
fifteen minutes Martin called. It was almost like a new miracle. 

"Are you all right, my dear?" I asked. 

Martin told me he was all right, but he sounded so tired— he usu- 
ally fasted when he was in jail. There was no energy in his voice. 

We talked a little before I told Martin about my phone conversa- 
tion with the President. 

There was a sort of smile in Martin's voice as he said, "So that's 
why everybody is suddenly being so polite. This is good to know." 

I learned later that Martin had suddenly been taken from his 
cell for exercise and allowed to take a shower, and he had been given 
a mattress and a pillow. 

Over the telephone Martin told me— indirectly, without mention- 
ing names, because jail officials were standing around him— to get 
word to Wyatt Walker about my conversation with the President so 
that a statement could be released to the press. 

I believe that President Kennedy's intervention gave real mo- 
mentum to the Birmingham Movement. The fact that he was con- 

2 2 8 My Life with 

cerned and wanted justice done heartened our people. It also helped 
the city officials to realize that they could not commit such inhuman 
practices and not be exposed. As for me, even though I understood 
that there were political overtones, I believed President Kennedy 
sincerely cared about what happened to us. There was an amazing 
warmth about him. Of course, as far as the black community was 
concerned, his action in the Atlanta sit-in case had already endeared 
him and the Kennedy family to them. 

Martin was in jail for eight days. While in prison he wrote his 
famous open letter, "Letter from a Birmingham jail," to a group of 
eight white Alabama clergymen who had issued a statement calling 
the protest "unwise and untimely" and had characterized Martin as 
an "outside agitator" who had come to Birmingham seeking publicity. 
Martin wrote the letter on the margins of newspapers and scraps of 
toilet paper. He said, "I am in Birmingham because injustice is here." 
Then he delved deeply into his whole philosophy of the Movement, 
and what he believed the attitude of the Christian churches should 
be toward it. He wrote that in the same way that one should obey 
just laws, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws, and 
he quoted Saint Augustine, saying, "An unjust law is no law at all." 
Martin castigated the white moderates who put order above justice. 
In answer to the ministers' statement that he was an extremist, he 
replied, "Was not Jesus an extremist for love?" And he told them of 
his disappointment that so many white Christian ministers had not 
seen fit to follow the words of Jesus. He pointed out that the Apostles 
were "outside agitators" in the countries to which they carried Christ's 

In closing, Martin said, "One day the South will know that when 
these disinherited children of Cod sat down at lunch counters, they 
were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream 
and for the most sacred values of our Judaeo-Christian heritage. 
. . ." And he expressed the hope "that circumstances will soon make 
it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a 
civil-rights leader, but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother." 

It was clear in his letter and in his life that Martin felt no bitter- 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 2 9 

ness against these men of God who had attacked him. His feeling was 
one of brotherhood and compassion always. 

Juanita Abernathy and I flew to Birmingham on Thursday to 
visit our husbands. On Saturday, April 20, they were released from 
jail. That very evening, at the Gaston Motel, a leadership conference 
hit upon the brilliant scheme of enlisting the black schoolchildren 
of Birmingham in the crusade for freedom. Martin realized that he 
would be severely criticized for using our children in this fashion, but 
he thought that the time had come to give the Movement "a dramatic 
new dimension." In addition, he felt that it was the children who 
would benefit most from desegregation, that it was the children for 
whom we were fighting, and that taking part in the Movement would 
give them a sense of worth and dignity and increase their spiritual 
values. At the same time, everything possible would be done to pro- 
tect them from physical danger. 

Andy Young, Bernard Lee, Jim Bevel, and others went recruiting 
to all the high schools of Birmingham (as well as the Negro colleges), 
and the children responded by the thousands. They attended mass 
meetings and training sessions in the philosophy and techniques of non- 
violence. Of them Martin said, "We found them eager to belong, 
hungry for participation in a significant social effort." Even children too 
young to march asked for a place in our ranks. Andy Young told them, 
'Y'ou are too young to go to jail. Go to the library. You'll learn some- 
thing there." 

Six small children shyly followed his advice and, all by themselves, 
desegregated the library, because no one dared touch them. 

On "D Day," May 2, Martin addressed a group of eager youngsters 
at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Then they marched down- 
town, singing "We Shall Overcome" as they came. They were all 
arrested. Wave after wave of children marched off singing, to suffer 
the same treatment; 959 young people were arrested that day. 

The next morning Martin announced, "Yesterday was D Day in 
Birmingham. Today will be Double D Day." 

With the spotlight of the nation on him, Bull Connor was becom- 

2 3 My Life with 

ing desperate. He massed police in the streets around the Sixteenth 
Street Church. As a thousand children and teen-agers marched toward 
them, he ordered the fire hoses opened. Jets of water under a hundred 
pounds of pressure knocked the children flat, ripping the clothes off 
some of them. Then Connor unleashed the police dogs— they ran wild, 
biting the children. The youngsters maintained nonviolence, but it 
was too much for some of our people who watched in agony from the 
rooftops. They began to throw rocks. 

Late Sunday afternoon the late Reverend Charles Billups led a 
group of adults from the New Pilgrim Baptist Church to the police 
barricade. They knelt in the street and prayed. Then they walked 
forward. Bull Connor himself arrived and ordered Rev. Billups to 
turn back. Billups refused, and his people shouted, "Turn on the 
water! Loose the dogs! We ain't going back. Forgive them, O Lord." 

In a fury, Bull Connor shouted, "Turn on the hoses, damnit!" 

But a miraculous thing happened. As the black people rose from 
their knees and moved forward, Connor's men, with the hoses sag- 
ging in their hands, fell back to each side. The moral pressure of a 
watching world and the spiritual force of that little band of blacks 
broke their discipline— disarmed them. Between their ranks, past the 
leashed dogs, Billups led his people. They held a prayer meeting in 
a nearby park and marched back to their church singing freedom 
songs. It was the first crack in the morale of the racist forces. 

All the next week the Children's Crusade continued. Birming- 
ham's jails were full. The arrested young people were held in stockades 
or halls. Finally there were too many to cope with. As five hundred 
youngsters marched on Tuesday, the police broke up the demonstra- 
tion but arrested no one. Three thousand people, mostly youngsters, 
infiltrated past the police by different routes and marched around the 
downtown streets, in and out of the stores, singing, "Ain't Gonna Let 
Nobody Turn Me Around" and "I'm on My Way to Freedom Land." 
Governor Wallace called out the National Guard. 

Meanwhile tremendous moral pressure was building up in the 
nation. The newspaper and television pictures of the young people 
prostrated by fire hoses, beaten up, and bitten by dogs brought a 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 3 1 

storm of telegrams to the White House. To people everywhere, Bull 
Connor came to represent the force of evil. Martin had said, "I hope 
to subpoena the conscience of the nation to the judgment seat of 
morality." And that is exactly what happened. 

On May 4 President Kennedy sent Burke Marshall to Birming- 
ham to try to negotiate a settlement. All that week, while the protests 
and arrests were going on, he conferred with the white businessmen 
and with Martin and the other black leaders. Through his influence 
the white leaders were also holding secret talks with Martin and his 
colleagues. At first the whites were so intransigent that Marshall 
despaired of bringing them to reason. After the meeting on Tuesday, 
May 7, one hundred and twenty-five white leaders adjourned for 
lunch. When they left the building they found thousands of blacks 
had marched into town. According to Martin, "There were square 
blocks of Negroes, a veritable sea of black faces. They were committing 
no violence; they were just present and singing. Downtown Birming- 
ham echoed to the strains of the freedom songs." 

After this sight of such large numbers of militantly nonviolent 
blacks, the white leaders returned in a much more reasonable mood. 
Martin and the others negotiated with them all night Wednesday, 
practically all day Thursday, and all Thursday night. On Friday, May 
10, an agreement was announced. It was almost word for word an 
acceptance of the original demands of the Movement. The stores were 
to be desegregated, hiring of Negroes upgraded, charges dropped, and 
the Senior Citizens Committee or the Chamber of Commerce would 
meet regularly with black leaders to reconcile their differences. 

Martin, Ralph Abernathy, and Fred Shuttlesworth immediately 
issued a conciliatory statement: "The acceptance of responsibility by 
local white and Negro leadership offers an example of a free people 
uniting to meet and solve their problems. Birmingham may well offer 
twentieth-century America an example of progressive racial relations; 
and for all mankind a dawn of a new day, a promise for all men, a 
day of opportunity and a new sense of freedom for all America." 

Of course, that was not the end of it, but Martin came home to 
me that night and we rejoiced together. There was an awful eruption 

2 3 2 My Life with 

of violence in Birmingham the next night, just as there had been in 
Montgomery after the bus settlement there. 

A.D.'s home was "double bombed." When the first bomb ex- 
ploded, he grabbed his wife Naomi and pulled her with him into the 
back room, just as a second bomb blew the whole front of the house 
off. Still another bomb aimed at Room 30 blew up the office of the 
Gaston Motel where Martin had been staying. In Birmingham 
thousands of enraged black people went onto the streets, and violent 
rioting broke out. Whoever planted the bombs wanted the Negroes 
to riot. 

A.D. did his best to stop it. Standing in the ruins of his own home, 
he exhorted the people to keep to nonviolence. Though he could not 
fully control them it was felt that his plea and presence restrained 
them. Governor Wallace's National Guard moved in to seal off the 
black ghetto. Martin rushed back to Birmingham on Sunday and went 
through the town, speaking wherever our people were gathered. He 
and Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, Wyatt Walker, and A.D. 
King went to all the Negro shops and restaurants. They even went 
into the poolrooms, preaching nonviolence. What a marvelous display 
of the spirit of nonviolence as the people gave them the knives and 
guns and other weapons with which they had armed themselves. They 
returned with a load of weapons and Birmingham gradually calmed 
down to implementing the agreements. 

Birmingham represented a real victory for the Movement because 
the officials of the city and the white merchants sat down with the 
black leadership and negotiated a settlement. Peace finally came be- 
cause militant nonviolence had forced negotiation and agreement. 
Though it cost much struggle and turmoil and pain, real progress was 

The victory had broad implications. Martin's long-range strategy 
in going into Birmingham was to focus national attention on the grave 
injustices endured by Negroes, and to bring about federal legislation. 
To this end. he deliberately chose a very tough city, because in that 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 3 3 

setting the evil of the system was highlighted and the world could see 
it for what it is. 

My husband had written that Birmingham was the colossus of 
segregation; a victory there would radiate across the South, cracking 
the whole edifice of discrimination. And it happened as he had pre- 
dicted. Within a few months, nearly one thousand cities were engulfed 
in the turmoil of change. Except for the Civil War and the Recon- 
struction, black people had never acted along such a broad front, in 
a direct action drive to alter the conditions of their lives. Nearly a 
million Negroes, with their white allies, had marched or otherwise 
demonstrated in the streets of hundreds of cities in that historic sum- 
mer. By its end, thousands of public accommodations were wedged 
open and a new chapter in race relations was begun. Objectively, ex- 
clusion was narrowed; subjectively, the confidence of Negroes was 
widened and deepened. This confidence was later to become the 
foundation for black pride and slogans of black power. The fall of 
Birmingham was a turning point almost too significant to be grasped 
at the time of its happening. 

Politically, as a result of the struggles there, President Kennedy 
reassessed the position of his Administration and decided to propose 
a civil-rights bill in 1963. It was eventually passed by Congress in 

At a conference on the proposed bill at the White House, Presi- 
dent Kennedy said to Martin with a wry grin, "Bull Connor has done 
as much for civil rights as Abraham Lincoln." 



lineteen-sixty-three was a year of 
fulfillment and of tragedy for us. First, there was Birmingham, with 
the sense of hope and accomplishment we derived from it. Then, 
hardly a month later, on June 12, the young Mississippi \AACP 
leader, Medgar Evers, was shot dead in the very door of his home in 
Jackson. His wife, Myrlie, heard the shot, and she and her children 
ran outside to find her husband lying on the ground, covered with 
blood. Medgar looked up, saw his young boy, and called, "Help me, 
my son, help me." 

There was no help for Medgar. He died about an hour later, the 
victim of a powerful and vengeful hatred. 

Medgar had been a good friend of Martin's, and we were deeply 
grieved. Then, how could I not feel that it might have been Martin? 

That June, Martin went off on a speaking tour, and bigger 
crowds than ever before turned out to hear him. Twenty-five thou- 
sand came in Los Angeles, and nearly two hundred thousand people 
took part in a parade that he led with Walter Reuther in Detroit. 


I remember saying to Martin, "People all over the nation have 
been so aroused by the impact of Birmingham that you should call a 
massive March on Washington to further dramatize the need for 
legislation to completely integrate the black man into American so- 
ciety. I believe a hundred thousand people would come to the nation's 
capital at your invitation." 

There were others who felt that the momentum Birmingham had 
generated should not be allowed to die out. A conference was held 
with the heads of other organizations— A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wil- 
kins of NAACP, John Lewis of SNCC, Dorothy Height of the Na- 
tional Council of Negro Women, James Farmer of CORE, and 
Whitney Young of the Urban League. It was Mr. Randolph who 
proposed a massive March on Washington for "Jobs and Freedom." 

We all enthusiastically accepted the idea. Because of the tremen- 
dous turnout in the cities Martin had visited, we hoped that a hundred 
thousand people would join the Washington march. Then, since 
Martin was greatly troubled by sporadic outbreaks of rioting in some 
cities, he felt that a great peaceful demonstration in Washington would 
serve the double purpose of providing the black masses with a chance 
for nonviolent protest and at the same time would put pressure on 
Congress to pass President Kennedy's Civil Rights Bill. 

The Washington march was set for August 28, 1963. It was to be 
a short march down the Mall from the Washington Monument to 
the Lincoln Memorial, where the speeches would be made. A coor- 
dinating committee called the Unity Council for Civil Rights was 
set up. At many meetings that summer, plans were laid with meticu- 
lous care under the direction of Bavard Rustin who served as national 
coordinator, with Cleveland Robinson as codirector. Walter Fauntroy 
of SCLC's Washington Bureau was coordinator for the Capital City. 
We were very hopeful for the success of the demonstration. Everything 
looked right. Our own leaders were united, and working together very 
effectively; we were getting enthusiastic support from the people, black 
ami white, and encouragement from the federal and local governments 
in Washington. 

While plans were being laid for the mammoth March on Wash- 

2 3 6 My Life with 

ington, Martin began writing his third book which was the story of 
the Birmingham campaign. It was to be entitled Why We Can't Wait. 
His first book had been Stride Toward Freedom, the Montgomery 
story, and his second, a book of sermons entitled, Strength to Love. 
That summer, our good friends, Clarence and Ann Jones of Riverdale, 
New York, generously offered us the use of their large, comfortable, 
and well-appointed home, while they moved into the home of friends. 
During our three-week stay in New York, Martin spent most of the 
time writing. 

On August 27, Martin and I went to Washington from Atlanta 
with members of the SCLC staff. In our hotel suite Martin began 
revising his speech, trying to condense it to the eight minutes that 
had been allotted to him. He worked on it all night, not sleeping a 
wink. It was about three o'clock in the morning when I fell asleep. 
I must say that I felt guilty at being able to sleep while Martin 
anxiously pored over his speech. In Detroit he had spoken about 
his dream of a free united land, but in view of the shortness of the 
time given him, he decided against using that theme. Instead he 
planned to speak from the theme of America issuing the Negro a 
bad check, and what this meant in terms of the Emancipation Procla- 
mation, since 1963 was its centenary. He intended to echo some of 
the Lincolnian language. 

As Martin worked, he would call on those of us who were in the 
room for some word that better expressed his thought, but as often as 
not it was he who would supply it. He was to be the final speaker, 
and his words would be carried on television and radio to millions of 
people in America and throughout the world, so it was vitally im- 
portant that his speech be both inspiring and wise. When Martin 
finished it, bone weary, almost in collapse from exhaustion, he had 
written a good speech. But he delivered a better one that next day. 

The sound of typewriters and voices in the next room awakened 
me early. I found my husband watching the crowds From the window 
of our hotel suite. As it approached the time that the march was to 
begin, we became anxious about how large the turnout would be. The 
reports on television were very discouraging. "A very small number ol 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 3 7 

people have assembled," they said. Before we left the hotel they were 
saving, "About twenty-five thousand." We were subdued and sad- 
dened because that was a far cry from the hundred thousand we had 
hoped for. 

Then, when we reached the Mall, our spirits soared. The reporters 
had grossly underestimated the crowd— there were ninety thousand 
assembled by ten o'clock, and, by the time we arrived, that whole 
vast, green concourse was alive with two hundred and fifty thousand 
people. They had come by plane, train, bus, automobile, some by 
bicycle, and a few by foot, from all parts of the nation. Almost a 
fourth of that enormous crowd was white. It was a beautiful sight. 

At the Mall I was separated from Martin. It had been my great 
wish to march beside him, not from any desire to share the spotlight, 
but because I wanted the joy of being with him on this special day. 
However, it had been decided by the planning council that the march 
would be led by the top leadership, and, of course I had to accede 
to their wishes. I must confess, though, that I felt that the involvement 
in the Movement of some of the wives had been so extensive that 
they should have been granted the privilege of marching with their 
husbands and of completely sharing this experience together, as they 
had shared the dangers and hardships. 

The way it worked out has often been written about: the leaders 
did not really lead the great March on Washington, because by the 
time they got lined up, all those tens of thousands of people who had 
been waiting for hours had assembled themselves and moved in a 
great procession to the Lincoln Memorial. The leaders fell into the 
line of march with the people. 

I marched with Wyatt and Ann Walker, Ralph and Juanita Aber- 
nathy, Dr. Ralph Bunche, Lena Home, and many other brothers and 
sisters in the Cause. As we reached the Memorial, we detoured to get 
to the platform. The crowd in front of it was very dense, but Wyatt 
would say, "I'm trying to get Mrs. King to the platform," and the 
marshals would let us pass. At the end because the crowd was so 
dense, we had quite a struggle to get through. 

Although no seat had been provided for me on the platform, Ralph 

2 3 8 My Lit 

c with 

helped me get a seat almost directly behind Martin. As I sat there and 
looked out over the great colorful assemblage, it was the biggest crowd 
I had ever seen, or anybody else had seen in the same place, at one 
time. The tremendous gathering of people seemed to stretch along 
the wide Mall all the way back to the high stone needle of the Wash- 
ington Monument. If you have never seen two hundred and fifty 
thousand people in one place before, it is an awesome but inspiring 

We knew that, in addition, there were millions watching on 
television, including President Kennedy in the White House. 

About one o'clock the ceremony started with Camilla Williams, 
lovely in the strong, hot sunlight, singing "The Star-Spangled Banner." 
Marian Anderson had been scheduled to sing "The Star-Spangled 
Banner," but her plane was delayed. She arrived Liter, obviously 
flustered and disappointed. A. Philip Randolph, the chairman of the 
ceremonies, introduced the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, who said, 
"We came here because we love our country; because our country 
needs us and we need our country." One after another, the leaders 
were introduced and spoke. They were all powerful speakers who had 
strong feelings to express. It was such a long program, I remember 
thinking how Martin must have been growing tired and how awfully 
hard it might be for him as the last speaker to arouse the audience. 
The speeches were interspersed by freedom songs sung by some of 
America's greatest artists. Mr. Randolph introduced Roy Wilkins who, 
as always, spoke convincingly and effectively. When Mr. Wilkins 
finished, it was past three o'clock, and the heat was intense. You 
could see that the crowd was growing restless as people drifted away. 
But when Mahalia Jackson was introduced, they came back and the 
restlessness ceased. We all listened to her wonderful voice with so 
much "soul" which Martin dearly loved, as she sang, "I've Been 
'Buked and I've Been Scorned." Then A. Philip Randolph rose to 
introduce Martin. He called my husband "the moral leader of the 
nation." Two hundred and fifty thousand people applauded thunder- 
ously, and voiced in a sort of chant, Martin Luther King. 

Martin was tremendously moved. I could tell by the line of his 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 3 9 

back and the sound of his voice— a little husky at first, then going 
out in a strong and beautifully resonant tone that came when he was 
inspired to his best. He started out with the written speech, delivering 
it with great eloquence. His main contention was that, "Instead of 
honoring her sacred obligations, America has given the Negro a bad 
check. We are here today to redeem that check, and we will not 
accept the idea that there is no money in the Bank of Justice." When 
he got to the rhythmic part of demanding freedom now, and wanting 
jobs now, the crowd caught the timing and shouted now in a cadence. 
Their response lifted Martin in a surge of emotion to new heights of 
inspiration. Abandoning his written speech, forgetting time, he spoke 
from his heart, his voice soaring magnificently out over that great 
crowd and over to all the world. It seemed to all of us there that day 
that his words flowed from some higher place, through Martin, to the 
wear)' people before him. Yea— Heaven itself opened up and we all 
seemed transformed. 

He said, "I say to you today even though we face the difficulties 
of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream that is 
deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day 
this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: We 
hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. 

"I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons 
of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit 
down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day 
even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of 
oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. 

"I have a dream that my four little children one day will live in 
a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, 
but by the content of their character. 

"I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every 
hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made 
plain and the crooked places will be made straight. This is the faith 
that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to 
hew out of the mountains of despair the stone of hope. With this 
faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle 

2 4 My Life with 

together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, know- 
ing we will be free one day. 

"This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to 
sing with new meaning, 'Let freedom ring.' So let freedom ring from 
the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire; let freedom ring from the 
mighty mountains of New York. But not only that. Let freedom ring 
from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from every hill and 
molehill of Mississippi, from every mountainside. 

"When we allow freedom to ring from every town and every 
hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up 
that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews 
and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and 
sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! Free at last! 
Great God A-mighty, we are free at last!' " 

As Martin ended, there was the awed silence that is the greatest 
tribute an orator can be paid. And then a tremendous crash of sound 
as two hundred and fifty thousand people shouted in ecstatic accord 
with his words. The feeling that they had of oneness and unity was 
complete. They kept on shouting in one thunderous voice, and for that 
brief moment the Kingdom of God seemed to have come on earth. 

When Martin's speech was over, the marshals made an attempt to 
get him away, because the people would have mobbed him. They 
formed a circle around him. I remembered that just before the march 
started, Mrs. Roy Wilkins, who had been marching with the social 
workers and who was hot and tired, and had difficulty getting to the 
platform had said, "If I ever get my hands on Roy, I'm not going to turn 
him loose." And I said to myself, "If I ever get my hands on Martin, 
I'm not going to turn him loose." I got up immediately and put my arm 
through his so I wouldn't be left behind. As we left the platform, I 
clung to Martin. At one point I felt a marshal pulling at me and heard 
another one say, "Watch it, man, that's Mrs. King." 

We finally made it to where cars were waiting to take the ten top 
leaders to the White House to confer with President Kennedy. Though 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 4 1 

I rode with Martin, when we arrived at the White House gate, Mrs. 
Wilkins and I slipped out and got a taxi back to the hotel. 

This was perhaps the closest I came to meeting our beloved Presi- 
dent John F. Kennedy, and it was not very close. When I asked 
Martin if I might sit in on the conference, he informed me that I 
could not because it would be against protocol regulations to have me 
come unless I had been previously invited. Just the same, I was hurt 
and even more so when the horrible event at Dallas took place only 
three months later. 

The Abernathys and other friends went out to dinner and to cele- 
brate that night, but I stayed right in the hotel because I was so 
anxious to see Martin and to share with him the experiences of that 
great day. Martin had had to go from the White House to a television 
appearance to be transmitted to Europe, and when he finally came it 
was ten o'clock. 

Of course, we talked for hours about how wonderful it all had 
been. I told Martin of my pride and joy in him, and we discussed the 
effects the march would have on the American people. Imagine, with 
all those people, black and white, from all walks of life, from all parts 
of the country, there had not been one unpleasant incident— that was 
the wonderful part of the demonstration. Though some commentators 
had predicted violence, there had been none. The enormous crowd 
had come quietly and with great dignity, and when it was over they 
dispersed peacefully to their homes. Martin and I knew how important 
this would be for the Cause and the nation. 

I also felt that the tremendous response to his great speech— per- 
haps his greatest— had completely restored the people's faith in the 
principle of nonviolence, and that it had established Martin beyond 
doubt as what A. Philip Randolph had named him, the moral leader 
of the nation. 

We were so exalted when we left Washington, as was everyone 
who had participated. So many people have told me of their feelings in 
the days following the march, and they were mine also. We all had 

2 4 2 My Life with 

felt that a great human milestone, a great spiritual communion had 
taken place on August 28, 1963. One of the most important things to 
be remembered in terms of the impact of Martin's speech at the March 
on Washington, is that many white people who were not involved or 
sympathetic to the Negro's demands, for the first time, got the message 
of what we had been trying to say in Montgomery, Albany, and Bir- 
mingham. They had surely gained a new respect for him and his Cause. 
Yet, when we went home, we returned to another kind of reality. 
Though the march had great symbolic and logistic effect in expressing 
the will of so many people, the world was still unjust. Segregation still 
existed, as did poverty and unequal opportunity. 

Then, tragedy came snapping at the heels of triumph. Less than 
three weeks later, on September 15, someone put a bomb in the 
Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. It exploded while 
Sunday school was being held. Four beautiful and innocent little 
girls were killed. 

It was a devastating shock to Martin and me that anyone could 
have such hate in his heart as to kill innocent children. It made us 
sadly reassess the whole situation. We had won a victory in Birming- 
ham, and though we knew that there was still much to be done, we 
had underestimated the virulent depth of white hatred. Now we 
again confronted the evil fact that the guardians of the status quo 
would do any cowardly and brutal thing to preserve it. The sober 
prospect faced us that it would take much more time and a far more 
concentrated effort to change the hearts of many of the people in 
white America. 

After preaching that morning at Ebenezer, Martin went straight to 
Birmingham to talk to the families who had lost their children and 
to try to help them find and accept the meaning of their sacrifice. 
Martin and I knew full well that it is easier for those in a position of 
leadership to live with brutality and even death, because they know 
the danger beforehand and have accepted it along with that leader- 
ship. But people who are not directly involved never think of them- 
selves as vulnerable. As parents ourselves, Martin and I realized how 
painfully horrible must be the suffering of those families, how bitter 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 4 3 

their cup must be. Martin desperately desired to give them what 
spiritual guidance and comfort he could. 

A joint funeral service was held for three of the little girls. Despite 
his sincere efforts, one of the families was so embittered they would 
not take part. Martin was to pronounce the eulogy, but before he 
spoke, novelist John Killens made a statement to the effect that this 
tragedy marked the end of nonviolence in the black Freedom Move- 
ment. "Negroes must be prepared to protect themselves with guns," 
he said. 

Christopher McNair, the father of one of the dead children, said, 
"I'm not for that. What good would Denise have done with a machine 
gun in her hand?'' 

In his eulogy Martin called the children, "Heroines of a holy 
crusade for freedom and human dignity." And he said, "Their death 
says to us that we must work passionately and unceasingly to make 
the American dream a reality." Then voicing his enduring faith, he 
said, "They did not die in vain. God still has a way of wringing good 
out of evil. History has proved again and again that unmerited suffer- 
ing is redemptive. The innocent blood of these little girls may well 
serve as the redemptive force that will bring new light to this dark city." 

The next tragedy, we shared with all the people of the world. On 
November 22, 1963, Martin was upstairs, attending to some things, 
with the television set on in the background. I was downstairs talking 
on the telephone to a dear friend, Esther Turner. Esther was one of 
those rare friends who was always there when she was needed most. 
She had been the first white person to integrate Ebenezer Church in 
1961, inspired by both Martin and Daddy King. 

Now, Martin called to me, "Corrie, I just heard that President 
Kennedy has been shot— maybe killed." 

Of course, I rushed up to be with Martin, and we sat there hoping 
and praying that John Kennedy would not die. We thought of the 
great national tragedy, and additionally, of the particular effect his 
death might have on the Black Movement. We felt that President 
Kennedy had been a friend of the Cause and that with him as Presi- 

2 4 4 My Life with 

dent we could continue to move forward. We watched and prayed for 

Then it was announced that the President was dead. Martin had 
been very quiet during this period. Finally he said, "This is what is 
going to happen to me also. I keep telling you, this is a sick society." 

I was not able to say anything. I had no word to comfort my 
husband. I could not say, "It won't happen to you." I felt he was 
right. It was a painfully agonizing silence. I moved closer to him and 
gripped his hand in mine. 

Nothing had ever affected me as deeply as President Kennedy's 
death, not even the news that Martin had been stabbed in Harlem. 
Because John Kennedy had been so kind and thoughtful to us, 
we felt that he was a friend to be relied upon, as well as our Presi- 
dent. Our family shared that feeling, and when the children came 
home from school that afternoon, Yoki came flying up the stairs, wail- 
ing, "Mommy! Mommy!" Daddy King was going downstairs, and as he 
passed her, he asked, in a troubled tone, "What's the matter, Yoki?" 

She did not stop to answer, but kept on running to me. She said, 
"Mommy, they've killed President Kennedy, and he didn't do one 
single thing to anybody." And then Yoki added, "Oh, Mommy, we're 
never going to get our freedom now." 

I took her in my arms and moved into the guest bedroom with 
Marty and two-year-old Dexter following. They sat down, and I said, 
"Yolanda, I know how you feel. We all feel this way. This is a 
terrible tragedy, but we are going to get our freedom. God is still 
above, and He's going to take care of us. So don't you worry, 
we're going to get our freedom." 

That is, in truth, what I also kept saving to myself. I had always 
believed— and 1 still believe— that what we arc doing has a purpose, 
and that our work is helping to lullill a plan God has lor this universe. 
I realized that John Kennedy, too, was an instrument of this Divine 
plan to bring about a just society and brotherhood to all men. Even so, 
I was deeply troubled that God had allowed him to be cut down. 
Finally I said to myself, "Though I don't understand why this hap 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 4 5 

pened, I believe in the passage from Scripture, 'All things work 
together for the good of them that love the Lord.' " I saw the President's 
death as part of God's permissive will, and I believed that John 
Kennedy's unearned sacrifice would be redemptive for all of us. 

Months later when Martin and I assessed the situation, we realized 
that President Kennedy had faced a great deal of opposition in Con- 
gress to his Civil Rights Bill. But his death moved the nation in such 
a way that the people felt that the legislation must be passed as a tribute 
to his memory. This should have been done because it was right, but 
also it was for the sake of the entire nation who had continued to 
backslide on its promise of democracy for black people. 

Watching Jacqueline Kennedy, who was so courageous in her 
tragedy, and watching her small children, I could not help thinking 
about my husband, especially because so many people considered 
Martin's work more dangerous even than the President's. It was as if, 
watching the funeral, I was steeling myself for our own fate. 

Martin and I, for all our philosophical explanations and our deep 
faith in God, were still personally in a dark abyss of sorrow for this 
gallant, compassionate, and wise young man— a true statesman. On 
that somber day, little Marty, who was six, said to his father, "Daddy, 
President Kennedy was your best friend, wasn't he, Daddy?" 

In a way, he was. 



he Nobel Prize, of course, was 
for us the major event of 1964, but other incidents occurred in which 
we had vital interest. The most important of these was the Civil Rights 
Bill, sent to Congress by John Kennedy in 1963, seen through to 
passage by Hubert Humphrey in the Senate and Lyndon Johnson 
in the White House. President Johnson invited my husband to come 
to the White House for the signing, and this was the first of their 
several meetings. After this visit, Martin was much reassured about the 
new President, and we both began to feel he was on the side of racial 
justice. Though Martin made no formal endorsement, he spoke out 
with devastating effect against Goldwaterism. My husband Felt that 
Goldwater represented forces that wished to suppress the black people 
of America, that his program, reactionary in general, gave voice to 
what specifically came to be called white backlash. Martin feared tli.u 
if Goldwater were elected, the Movement would get no further help 
nor even -neutrality from the federal government but would be 
hindered by restrictive legislation. 


We had a great shock when, on Sunday June 21, 1964, three civil- 
rights workers— Negro Mississippian James Chaney, CORE staff mem- 
ber Michael Schwerner, and volunteer Andrew Goodman, both white 
New Yorkers— were reported to have been arrested on speeding charges 
in Mississippi. The young men disappeared and local authorities 
claimed that they had been released from prison about six hours after 
their arrest. However, shortly after this time, the burned station wagon 
in which they had been riding was found, though the men were missing 
until August 4th, when the FBI found their bodies buried in a local 
dam. As we have seen, we were in Paris following the Nobel ceremony 
by the time the murderers were finally identified. It was a terrible ex- 
ample of the Mississippi climate and Martin later said of the incident 
that when he delivered the memorial service for these three slain 
civil-rights workers he knew what it was like to stand in the valley 
of the shadow of death after standing in front of Sheriff Rainey's 
courthouse in Mississippi. 

This was the summer that the World's Fair was in New York 
City. Due to the generosity of our dear friends, Justine and Louis 
Smadbeck, we were able to be in New York and take our children to 
the fair. The Smadbecks gave us the use of their large and comfortable 
apartment on 72nd Street for three weeks while they and their four 
boys moved to their summer place in Connecticut. Justine had been 
director of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation at the time I received 
the scholarship from them to study at the New England Conservatory 
of Music. 

The Democratic Convention also met while we were in New York 
and Martin appeared before the Platform Committee and fought un- 
tiringly to get the Mississippi delegation seated. I'm sure his efforts, 
along with those of so many more people, contributed immeasurably 
toward their success in being seated during the 1968 Convention. 

That summer Martin also went to Germany to preach in churches 
in both West Berlin and East Berlin; then he went on to Rome lor a 
private audience with Pope Paul VI. 

I began to give my Freedom Concerts that year, in a format similar 

2 4 8 My Life with 

to the final section of the 1956 New York concert, which I called 
"Portrait of the Montgomery Bus Protest." 

I feel that the Freedom Concert was an inspired concept seeking 
to combine in dramatic form, art and experience in a practical, 
relevant, meaningful way. My background as a performer in music, 
coupled with my years of experience as a public speaker, gave me 
a unique means of communicating these experiences in the freedom 
struggle which I felt was more powerful and effective than either 
speaking or singing alone could be. The Freedom Concert is "The 
Story of the Struggle from 1955 to 1965" told in narrative and song. 
There are eight parts to the concert in which I alternate between 
narrating and singing. 

The following is a copy of the Freedom Concert program: 

The American Dream 
"The House I Live In" Earl Robinson 

The Dream Blighted 
"Come By Here, My Lord" Angolian Folk Song 

A New Hope: Portrait of the Nonviolent Integration Movement in 


"Walk Together, Children" Traditional 

"My Feet Are Tired" Frances Thomas 

"Lord, I Can't Turn Back" Robert Williams 

"Hold On" I lall Johnson 

"J lonor, Honor" Hall Johnson 

National Movement Developed 
"We Shall Overcome" Traditional 

One World— One Brotherhood 
"He's Got The Whole World In His Hand" Hamilton Forrest 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 4 9 

Supreme Sacrifices 
"Witness" Hall Johnson 

The March on Washington 
"Seeking For A City" Hall Johnson 

Montgomery: The Long Road Back 

"No Crystal Stair" Frances Thomas 

"We Shall Overcome" Traditional 

My first official Freedom Concert was given November 14, 1964, 
at New York City's Town Hall. 

The place was filled and the proceeds, amounting to six thousand 
dollars were divided between SCLC and the Goodman-Chaney- 
Schwerner Fund. 

At first Martin did not think the concerts would succeed as a fund 
raising effort, but when they brought in more than fifty thousand 
dollars for SCLC and its affiliates, he had to admit he had miscal- 

I sang regularly with the Church Choir of Ebenezer. Sometimes 
on the Sundays that he preached, Martin would ask me to do the 
Meditation Hymn. "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" was one of his favorites. 
He used to ask me to sins it at Christmastime, and sometimes at 
Easter. While I shared this with Martin as one of my favorite spirituals, 
I now seem to find a new meaning and interpretation of the words of 
this song. They are so reminiscent of Martin's own life experiences: 

Sweet little Jesus boy, they made you be born in a manger. 

Sweet little Holy Child, didn't know who you was. 

Our eyes was blind, we couldn't see— we didn't know who you was 

The world treat you mean, Lawd, treat me mean, too. 

But that's how things is down here, 

Wc didn't know who you was 

2 5 My Life with 

Martin had a high baritone voice, and he loved to sing. We and 
the children used to sing together whenever we could, but especiallv 
at Christmastime. When they were together, Martin, Ralph, Andy, 
Bernard Lee, and Wyatt Walker would sometimes sing freedom songs 
as a quintet. Once, his willingness to sing in public caused Martin a 
very embarrassing time. He was speaking at a large meeting, and 
when he finished, he had wanted the audience to join in singing "His 
Eye Is on the Sparrow." But the people had not understood what he 
meant, and Martin was left standing there, only his voice sounding in 
the large auditorium. He told me how emotionally the people re- 
sponded when he came to the part that said: 

"I sing because I'm happy, 
I sing because I'm free. . . ." 

It was as if the emotional pull on the audience had lifted them from 
their seats. Martin continued singing: 

"His eye is on the sparrow, 
And I know He's watching me." 

He told me that he had real stage fright, but had no choice but to sing 
through to the end. The audience responded with great emotion, 
shouting and applauding. When Martin got home, he told me proudly, 
"I really did well. You think I can't sing, but the people say I can." 

I never really told him he couldn't sing, but the important thing is 
that he loved music. I Ie had a good voice for a choir and he was very 
sensitive to music, a quality he inherits from his mother, who is ex- 
tremely talented musically. The whole family is blessed with musical 
talent. Christine sings well, and A.D. sings and has an excellent ear 
for music. 

Our children are musical, too. Yolanda plavs the piano quite will 
and has played the clarinet and the bells. As a beginner in piano, 
Bunny has made unusual progress. Marty has a good ear. He plays 
the trombone and has studied piano, and Dexter is now working on 
the trumpet, although he also wants to plaj the Bute. The bovs are 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 5 1 

pretty casual about practicing— not unusual in boys. On the other 
hand, I've heard them both accurately reproduce, note for note, a 
horn duet, singing their "bop-bop-bops" with near perfect pitch. 

The children are, I think, normal rambunctious youngsters, but 
I sometimes look at them in amazement that they have survived so 
bravely some of their experiences. For example, it was in the summer 
of 1965 that the Atlanta elementary schools were integrated, and we 
were of course anxious that our own children transfer to an integrated 
school. Although we believe that this process should work both ways- 
white families sharing the burden of "pioneering" with black students 
by going to all-Negro schools— we knew that that was not a likely 
prospect anywhere in this country, and especially not in the South. 

Martin said, "Coretta, you will have the job of finding a good 
school and getting our children registered in this integrated school by 
September." We had tried to register both of our older children in 
private schools when they were each in the first grade in an effort to 
have them receive an integrated education. Yolanda had been denied 
admission by one church school, and Marty had been denied admission 
by another. They were rejected solely because they were black. 

Martin's heavy responsibilities for the Movement prevented him 
from giving any time to this concern and I agreed to do the job, though 
the summer was already half spent and I must admit, I was caught 
off guard. When I discussed the matter of transferring with the chil- 
dren, they did not want to go to an all-white school as the only two 
black children. 

I called Juanita Abernathy and we discussed the feasibility of hav- 
ing our children transfer to the same previously all-white school. Her 
children felt the same apprehension as mine did. We finally selected 
what we were told was one of Atlanta's best public elementary schools, 
the Spring Street School. 

The night before school was to start, we were notified that all five 
children, the Abernathys' three— Juandalyn, Donzaleigh, and Ralph, 
III; and Yolanda and Marty, had been accepted by the superintendent 
of the school district, and they started school together on the very 
next day— Monday morning. 

2 5 2 My Life with 

Though the children were naturally excited, I don't think they 
were afraid, because they had each other— the Kings had the Abcr- 
nathys, the Abernathys had the Kings, and it made the initial strange- 
ness, the stares, and the occasional remarks, easier to take. 

That first morning, as Juanita Abernathy and I walked through 
the school cafeteria where registration was taking place, we were 
stopped by a reporter. Almost before we could speak, the school's 
principal came up to us, and said, "Don't talk to him. We don't talk 
to the press in this school." She then turned to the newspaperman 
and ordered him to leave. 

The reporter tried to explain to her that there was enormous inter 
est in school integration throughout the nation and that because of 
my husband's prominence, it would be impossible to "keep the lid" on 
the story. He added, "As a matter of fact, the King children's pres- 
ence at this school has already been announced by the wire services." 

I sympathized with the principal's concern. Of course, she felt that 
the presence of reporters and photographers would disrupt the school's 
routine. And she did try to make us feel welcome. She said, "I want 
these children here, and I am sure they will be accepted by the won 
derful children in the Spring Street School. But if there are anv un- 
kind remarks made, let me know and I will take care of it. I will not 
tolerate any such thing." 

The principal even recommended separating the children into 
five different classes, so that they could make friends more easily. At 
first, we, and the children, were a little apprehensive about that, but 
we were willing to try it. It worked out very well and we all, even by 
the end of that first day, had a very good feeling about the experiences. 

Still I did not agree with the school administration that it should 
be kept secret, and after I got home that first morning, when a re- 
porter questioned me, I told him at what time we would be picking 
up the children in the afternoon. 

This was not a matter of seeking publicity. In fact, we have al- 
ways tried to protect the children from that kind of public focus. 1 low 
ever, I felt that it was extremely important that the nation see that 
integration could be accomplished peacefully. I also hoped that, see- 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 5 3 

ing our experience, other black families would be encouraged to send 
their children to previously lily-white schools. 

I am afraid that the principal of the school did think that we were 
publicity seeking. We, on the other hand, had learned to accept the 
loss of privacy as part of the price we had to pay in the work we were 
trying to do. 

It was during this same period that the SCLC had launched its 
offensive for voter registration in the deep South. In our home state 
of Georgia, the registration of black voters was proceeding fairly satis- 
factorily. In 1963, thirty thousand Negroes had been added to the 
rolls, and forty thousand more were added in 1964. However, in 
George Wallace's Alabama, there had been very little progress, almost 
none in the countrv districts. For example, not one black voter was 
registered in Lowndes or Wilcox counties, and there were almost no 
Negroes registered in the other black-belt counties of Alabama. 

My husband had chosen Selma, the county seat of Dallas County, 
the heart of the black belt of Alabama and, therefore, the symbol of 
black oppression, as the target for our demonstrations around voting 
rights. It was a medium-sized town, situated between Montgomery 
and Birmingham. I was pleased by the choice because Selma was quite 
near my home town of Marion, and, also, because I realized that this 
meant that the Movement was spreading out from the urban centers 
to the smaller communities. 

Right after New Year's Day, 1965, shortly after he returned from 
Oslo, Martin went to Selma with some of our staff. He did indeed 
"go back to the valley" to try to alleviate the suffering there. Their 
first step was to test public accommodations. Black people went to all 
the hotels and restaurants in Selma to ask for service. Martin had 
been warned that there was likely to be trouble and that he might 
not get out alive. SCLC's efficient Operation Dialogue Department, 
headed by Harry Boyte, assisted by Mew Soong Li, Rachael Dubois, 
and Allen Lingo, had surveyed the attitude of the white community 
in Selma and had predicted that there would be violence. But there 
were no incidents on this day, and our people were served. 

2 5 4 My Life with 

A week or so later, Martin returned to Selma. All during the first 
day he was there, a white man followed Martin around the streets, 
waiting to speak to him. No one seemed too alarmed, because he 
looked and talked like a reasonable person. At one point, he followed 
Martin into the Hotel Albert, and as Martin was registering, the man 
came up behind him and said something. Martin turned around to 
answer, and the white man hit him as hard as he could in the head. 
Martin staggered and almost fell, but members of his staff supported 
him and others grabbed and held his attacker until the police arrived 
to arrest him. Though Martin was not seriously injured, he did have 
a terrible headache for some days after, and we were all made very 
aware of how easy it was for an assailant to get close enough to injure 
my husband. 

As always, we sent our staff ahead into Selma to prepare the peo- 
ple for the voter-registration drive. SNCC had already begun working 
in the area the previous fall trying to get black people registered. All 
through January and February, we held mass meetings in Selma and 
in Marion; and people were escorted to the voter-registration offices in 
an attempt to have them registered. Mv own parents, on whose home 
territory the struggle now took place, attended the mass meetings and 
contributed money to the Cause. 

As a matter of fact, the first casualty of the campaign occurred in 
Marion. Several people had been arrested, and one night a protest 
march moved from the church to the Marion jail. In the middle of 
the march, the streetlights were suddenly turned out. The police 
and their white racist comrades charged the demonstrators, clubbing 
and beating them. While trying to protect his mother, a young man 
named Jimmy Lee Jackson was shot on February 18 and died eight 
clays later on February 26. 

Jimmy Lee was from Marion; his aunt, Juanita Lee, a former 
classmate, had been one of my best friends in high school. He was 
just out of high school and wis the main support ol his family. lie 
was not engaged in any violent activity. He was a victim of senseless 
white rage.. 

\\ e received a call in .Atlanta that night to tell us the terrible 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 5 5 

news, and we were informed that the police had sealed off the area 
and that not even an ambulance could get in to take the wounded to 
the hospital. 

Jimmy was given a martyrs funeral, buried in blue denim. An 
overflow crowd of people came to pay final respects to him at this 
time when the tension of the Movement was very high- 
Martin pronounced the eulogy and afterward, in a steady down- 
pour of rain, marched with the mourners to the cemetery where Jimmy 
was laid to rest. My father, who was then sixty-five, marched beside 
Martin. He felt that he had to walk with his children in the struggle 
for freedom. My brother, Obie, was there; he also has been active in 
the Movement. A minister in the A.M.E. Zion Church, he ran for 
tax collector of Perry County in 1966 and almost won. This year, he 
integrated a post office in a small town near our parents' home by 
becoming a mail carrier. To my knowledge, until recently, there have 
been no black postal employees in the small towns and rural areas 
in the South since Reconstruction. 

Though Martin had predicted that there would be strong re- 
sistance and possibly retaliation by death when we made an all-out 
assault against the system of oppression in the black-belt, we were 
deeply saddened by the news from Marion. Somehow, we felt that 
this was the foreshadowing of what was yet to come. Yet, despite this 
awareness, freedom's time clock had been set and no one could stop it. 
Around the first of February, Martin and Ralph Abernathy led 
a march of two hundred fifty blacks and fifteen whites from Brown's 
Chapel A.M.E. Church to the Selma Courthouse to protest the diffi- 
culty of registering Negro voters. They were all arrested. Most of 
them were released on bail, but Martin and Ralph refused to put up 
bail. They were put into the same cell— an improvement, at least, 
over the last Alabama jail experience of solitary confinement Martin 
faced so bravely but dreaded so much. 

During the five days they were in prison, Juanita and I went to 
Selma to see them and to participate in the struggle. The day we ar- 
rived at Brown's Chapel for a noonday mass meeting, Andy Young 
came up to me and said, 'You're going to have to come inside and 

2 5 6 My Life with 

greet the people, because Malcolm X is here and he's really roused 
them. They want to hear from you." 

I said, "Andy, I'm just not in a speaking mood." 

He said urgently, "You must do it. By the time you get inside, 
you'll feel like it." 

Juanita and I went into the church and were enthusiastically re- 
ceived. Juanita spoke first. Then I gave a short inspirational speech, 
emphasizing the nonviolent approach and urging them to continue. 
After I spoke, I was introduced to Malcolm X for the first time. I was 
impressed by his obvious intelligence, and he seemed quite gentle as 
he said to me, "Mrs. King, will you tell Dr. King that I had planned 
to visit with him in jail? I won't get a chance now because I've got to 
leave to get to New York in time to catch a plane for London where 
I'm to address the African Students' Conference. I want Dr. King to 
know that I didn't come to Selma to make his job difficult. I reallv did 
come thinking that I could make it easier. If the white people realize 
what the alternative is, perhaps they will be more willing to hear 
Dr. King." I thanked him, and said I would give Martin his mes- 

I was impressed with Malcolm's sincerity, but found it difficult 
to reconcile with some of the Muslim principles which were so differ- 
ent from our thinking. They advocated separation of the races and 
condoned violence so that they were open to the charges of teaching 
hate and violence. Martin insisted that violence was the derivative of 
despair; both Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm had suffered terribly 
at the hands of white racism and their bitterness was a derivative of the 
suffering. One of the first documentaries on the Black Muslims was 
appropriately named, "The Hate That Hate Produced." 

Yet Martin firmly agreed with certain aspects of the program that 
Malcolm X advocated. For example, he shared with Malcolm the 
fierce desire that the black American reclaim his racial pride, his joy 
in himself and his race— in a physical, a cultural, and a spiritual re- 
birth. He shared with the nationalists the sure knowledge that "black 
is beautiful" and that, in so many respects, the quality of the black 
people's scale of values was far superior to that of the white culture 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 5 7 

which attempted to enslave us. Martin too had a close attachment to 
our African brothers and to our common heritage. 

And, on the other side, Martin too believed that white Christian- 
ity had failed to act in accordance with its teachings. However, my 
husband felt that it was not the Christian ethic which must be rejected, 
but that those who failed Christianity must be brought— through love 
—to brotherhood, for their own redemption as well as ours. He be- 
lieved that there was a great opportunity for black people to redeem 
Christianity in America. 

Martin also believed in nonviolent Black Power. He believed that 
we must have our share of the economy, of education, of jobs, of free 
choice. We must have the same quality and quantity of power that 
other ethnic groups possess, so that blacks, as a group, can hold their 
own in a society where, instead of a melting pot, separate peoples 
function beside each other, exchanging the power they control for 
the power the other fellow has. Blacks have not predominated in local 
politics the way many Irish have, or in finance, the way many white 
Protestants have, or in the professions, the way many Jews have. 
Black Power is necessary before black equality is possible. Yet, we 
are not asking for anything the rest of society does not have, merely for 
our rightful share. 

Martin believed that we must have freedom now. He believed 
that freedom must be militantly grasped from those who hold it from 
us. But he believed that the only effective way to accomplish that goal 
is through nonviolence— nonviolence to those we confronted, non- 
violence to our own souls, which could be destroyed by hatred. 

Freedom now is what Martin fought for, with his spirit and his 
body, on the front line. Who could doubt that? I remember him on 
the platform, exhorting his people to keep their courage up, to gird 
their loins for the hard battle ahead. He had the children with him 
that day, and he turned from the crowd and shouted to our son, who 
sat behind him. "Marty . . . Marty! What do we want?" And 
Marty called back to his daddy, "Free— dom!" And Martin called out, 
"Marty, when do we want it?" And the boy shouted, "We want free- 
dom now!" 

2 5 8 My Life with 

With that spirit as a shield and as a program, Martin moved moun- 
tains. And he did it without destroying his own soul and without lead 
ing his own people to self-destruction. 

I told Martin about my conversation with Malcolm that day, but 
our time together in the Selma jail was so limited that we didn't spend 
much of it discussing Malcolm X. A few days later the British re- 
fused to allow Malcolm to enter England, and he came back to Amer- 
ica, where, eighteen days later, he was assassinated at a public rally 
in Harlem. 

The death of Malcolm X affected me profoundly. Perhaps that 
was because I had just met him, and perhaps it was because I had 
begun to understand him better. Martin and I had reassessed our feel- 
ings toward him. We realized that since he had been to Mecca and had 
broken with Elijah Muhammad, he was moving away from hatred 
toward internationalism and against exploitation. In a strange way, 
the same racist attitude which killed others who were working for 
peaceful change also killed Malcolm X. 

I said to Martin, "What a waste! What a pity that this man who 
was so talented and such an articulate spokesman for black people 
should have to die just as he was reaching for something of real value." 

Martin believed that Malcolm X was a brilliant young man who 
had been misdirected. They had talked together on occasion and had 
discussed their philosophies in a friendly way. At the same time, I 
know that, though he never said so publicly, Malcolm X had deep 
respect for Martin. He recognized that Martin was unique, not alone 
in talent or eloquence, but in fearlessness and courage. Malcolm 
admired manhood and he knew how supremely Martin exemplified it. 

While the Movement was getting started in Selma, Martin went 
back and lorth constantly, unable to stay continuously because of his 
many speaking commitments. The SCLC continued to try to register 
voters, but there were many problems. The authorities would have 
Negroes stand in line for hours. Then the office would close, and 
they would say, "You come back another day." Sometimes they would 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 5 9 

let a very few at the head or the line register and then close up 

As in Birmingham, the city officials of Selma were rabid segrega- 
tionists. Mayor Joe T. Smitherman was a friend of Governor Wallace, 
and, in a way, Sheriff Jim Clark of Selma was Bull Connor all over 
again. We were prepared for violence against us, and we tried to teach 
the people to resist it— in militant nonviolence. 

There is a constant undercurrent of violence against the black man. 
This is the political and emotional violence which denies rights to men, 
education to children, and respect and medical care to the family. 
My husband saw that it was better to accept physical violence in 
public for a short time than to suffer spiritual and emotional violence 
for generations. The public reaction to physical violence could be 
mobilized to bring the kind of political and economic changes which 
would remove the more subtle and deadly psychological and spiritual 
violence against black people. 

On Friday, March 5, Martin flew to Washington and spent two 
and a half hours with President Johnson describing conditions in 
Alabama and urging the President to expedite the new Voting Rights 
Bill and make sure that it provided for federal registrars of voting ap- 
plicants. On his return, he announced that on Sunday, March 7, 
demonstrators would march fifty-four miles from Selma to Mont- 
gomery. Governor Wallace promptly issued an order prohibiting the 
march. Martin told the people of Selma, "I can't promise that you won't 
get beaten; I can't promise you won't get your house bombed; I can't 
promise that you won't get scarred up a bit, but we must stand up 
for what is right." 

At the last moment, Martin was persuaded not to lead the march 
himself. It was SCLC strategy for the leaders to avoid arrest in the 
opening phases of a campaign, because that would leave an army 
without generals. Martin did not really foresee any violent conflict that 
day. He tbought Governor Wallace would have all the demonstrators 
arrested, so he asked Hosea Williams and John Lewis to lead the 

2 6 My Life with 

Almost anyone who can read or look at a television screen knows 
what happened in Selma that sunny, bloody Sunday afternoon— over 
five hundred black men and women and a few white people walking 
out of town, up the four-lane Highway 80; Sheriff Clark and Colonel 
Al Lingo of the Alabama Highway Patrol with sixty state troopers 
and some cavalry confronting them just beyond the Edmund Pettus 
Bridge, which was to become almost as famous as the bridge at Con- 
cord, Massachusetts. 

The marchers were ordered to halt and given two minutes to turn 
back. At the end of less than a minute of dead silence, during which 
the troopers put on gas masks, Major John Cloud shouted, "Troopers, 
forward!" His sixty men charged into the defenseless column of dem- 
onstrators, clubs swinging. Twenty people were knocked flat; others 
knelt to pray. The troopers charged again, throwing tear-gas grenades. 
Then Sheriff Clark shouted to his mounted posse, "Get those goddam 
niggers! Get those goddam white niggers!" The horsemen charged 
with shrill, wild rebel yells. 

The whole nation was sickened by the pictures of that wild melee. 
Tear gas, clubs, horsemen slashing with bullwhips like the Russian 
czar's infamous cossacks, and deputies, using electric cattle prods, 
chasing fleeing men, women, and children all the way back to Brown's 
Chapel. Sixteen people were hospitalized; fifty others were hurt. 

All during that brutal attack, the whites, watching the show from 
the sidelines, their faces distorted with hatred, called out, "Get those 
niggers. Kill them. Get the S.O.B.'s." And worse. 

A white nurse told later how she watched a trooper swinging a 
bullwhip at a young boy, screaming hysterically, "March, nigger. You 
wanted to march and now I'm gonna help you!" 

The tear gas was so bad that elderly people lay helplessly vomiting 
while the troopers charged right over them. 

If the country was horrified, Martin was aghast. "If I had known 
it was going to be like that I'd have gone myself," he said. He an- 
nounced that on Tuesday he and Ralph Abemathy would lead another 
march. Alabama officials got a temporary federal injunction against it. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 6 1 

I was now in San Francisco, having finished the third in a series 
of five Freedom Concerts on the West Coast which I was doing as a 
fund raising effort for SCLC. The news of the confrontation at the 
Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma reached me just before my concert 
that late Sunday afternoon. I waited anxiously to hear from Martin. 
He telephoned me Sunday night— Monday morning, really— at three 
o'clock. Rumors had been flying that he would be assassinated if he led 
the march on Sunday. He told me of his plans to go to Selma on 
Monday, to march on Tuesday, in spite of the problems with Wallace 
and the injunction. 

I told him, "If you get enough people, you can write your own 
decisions." Martin said that people were already arriving in Selma to 
support the Movement. 

Then Xernona Clayton, wife of Ed Clayton, the SCLC public 
relations director, who was traveling with me on this tour, spoke with 
Martin and he told her he was going to Selma, but he implied that he 
felt he would not get out alive. 

When she hung up the telephone after talking with Martin, she 
said, "Coretta, I've never heard Martin talk like that. Have you 
thought of the possibility that something might happen to him?" 

"Actually, I have thought about it a great deal," I answered hesitat- 
ingly. "But I have to resist worry. We know what we are doing is 
right. If we stop now, people will feel we've been intimidated, and 
will lose faith in us." 

Still I was terribly worried. Despite the fact that there were two 
concerts left of this tour, there was no doubt that if anything hap- 
pened to Martin I would cancel everything and return home. 

I was also concerned about the children's reaction to all the tension 
produced by Selma. Somehow, I felt that my presence there could 
offer the security they may have needed at that time. 

I telephoned them the next day, and although they were aware of 
what was happening, they seemed relaxed and in good spirits. I asked 
Marty how he felt about his father leading another march. He said, 
"All right." 

2 6 2 My Life with 

"Do you think anything will happen to your daddy, Marty?" 

"No!" He answered quickly. Then he added, "Of course, if 
Granddaddy King was there he could straighten the whole thing out, 
but he has to stay here to take care of the church." 

The next days were spent in much anxiety and I kept close to the 
telephone and listened for news reports from Selma. Martin went to 
Selma on Monday. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach telephoned 
him several times begging him not to break a federal injunction. Then 
former Florida Governor LeRoy Collins, who was head of the federal 
Community Relations Service, flew to Selma to plead with Martin 
and talk to the offiicals. 

Martin agonized because it was against his principles to flaunt 
federal law. He made a nationwide appeal to clergymen and lay people 
to join him on Tuesday for the march from Selma to Montgomery. 
Black and white people began pouring into Selma from all over the 
nation to support the march, including clergymen of all denominations 
—ministers, priests, rabbis, and nuns. Martin remembered what had 
happened in Albany. He knew that if he called the march off, they 
would feel let down. They would say, "King chickened out." He told 
Collins he would have to march. "It's better to die on the highway than 
make a butchery of my conscience," he said. 

That Tuesday fifteen hundred people marched out of Selma, more 
than half of them white. There were 450 clergymen and a contingent 
of Catholic nuns. Mrs. Paul Douglas and Mrs. Harold Ickes were 
among the well-known women marchers. Martin, Ralph Abernathy, 
James Farmer, James Forman, Bishop John Wesley Ford, Fred Shut 
tlesworth, and Howard Schomer, president of the Chicago Theological 
Seminary, led the marchers. 

The procession crossed the famous bridge and came to the rank of 
troopers. The order to halt was given. Fifteen hundred men and women 
knelt in the roadway and prayed. Realizing the imminent possibility 
of a violent confrontation resulting in needless death, Martin told the 
marchers to turn back. He was criticized for this action, but to have 
gone on, would have produced a confrontation before we had assembled 
our maximum strength. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 6 3 

Martin always believed it wrong to pursue action with small num- 
bers. He constantly emphasized that the presence of masses is both 
proof of support and a discouragement to violence. We had far more 
behind us than the hundreds there that day; indeed, we had the sym- 
pathy and support of the majority of America as later events demon- 

The inconclusive ending of the march might well have produced a 
stalemate in Selma. But, as usual, the white extremists acted so brutally 
that they themselves highlighted, for the nation's conscience, the evil 
system they stood for. That night, James Reeb, father of five children, 
a white Unitarian minister from Boston, had dinner at a black- 
operated restaurant in Selma with two other clergymen. As they came 
out, four Klansmen in sports jackets attacked them, shouting, "White 
niggers! Where's your hammer and sickle?" Reeb's skull was crushed 
with a wooden plank and he died two days later in Birmingham with- 
out regaining consciousness. 

The police chief "Director of Public Safety" Wilson Baker of 
Selma quickly arrested three of the murderers. It made no difference. 
The whole nation was aroused by a second atrocity. Demonstrations 
were held in cities from coast to coast. Four thousand religious leaders 
assembled in Washington to push the Voting Rights Bill, and picketed 
the White House. 

On Monday, March 15, two thousand people joined in a memorial 
service for James Reeb at the courthouse in Selma, in what was perhaps 
the greatest and most inspiring ecumenical service ever held. Arch- 
bishop Iakovos, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in North and 
South America, conducted the memorial service from the courthouse 
steps. Martin spoke the eulogy, in which he asked, "Why must good 
men die for good?" and answered, "James Reeb's death may cause 
the white South to come to terms with its conscience." Then Martin 
laid a wreath in James Reeb's memory at the courthouse door. 

That very evening President Johnson at last spoke out before a 
joint congressional session which was broadcast on all television net- 
works. He said: 

2 6 4 My Life with 

"At times, history and Fate meet at a single time in a single place to 
shape a turning point in man's unending search for freedom. 

"So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at 
Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama. 

"There, long suffering men and women peace! ully protested the 
denial of their rights as Americans. 

"What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which 
reaches into every section and state of America. It is the effort of 
American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of 
American life. 

"Our mission is at once the oldest and the most basic of this coun- 
try—to right wrong, to do justice, to serve man. 

"Their cause must be our cause, too. Because it is not just Negroes, 
but really all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry 
and injustice. 

"And we shall overcome!" 

Later in his speech, Johnson assigned the Voting Rights Bill first 
priority among his proposed legislation. 

I remember saying to myself as I listened in my bedroom in our 
home in Atlanta to what has now become Johnson's famous We Shall 
Overcome speech, "Thank goodness, they've finally got the message of 
what my husband has been saying for years." 

Despite the speeches, the marches, the singing, and all the brave 
words, the Selma Movement dragged on. People continued to march 
and to be arrested. After two murders and nearly 3,800 arrests, only 
about fifty Negroes had been registered to vote. 

But suddenly everything changed. The injunction against a march 
from Selma to Montgomery was lifted. Martin called for a massive 
march. Since Governor Wallace still forbade it, President Johnson 
federalized the Alabama National Guard and committed tour thousand 
regular army troops to Alabama. Now we would march under the 
protection of the United States Government. 

On Sunday, March 21, only two weeks after the brutality at the 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 26 5 

bridge, Martin marched out of Selma on Highway 80 at the head of 
about five thousand people of both races. They crossed the Edmund 
Pettus Bridge and continued for eight miles. There, by agreement 
between Martin and federal officials, all but three hundred left the 
column. The rest continued on to Montgomery. 

I had a commitment to speak at Bennett College at Greensboro, 
North Carolina, that day, but I said to Martin, "I would so much 
rather march in Selma." 

He answered, "You are making a contribution by going to Greens- 
boro. You can join us on Monday." And so I did. 

The march had been beautifully organized with Hosea Williams in 
charge of logistics. Hosea, whose courageous and forthright leadership 
desegregated public facilities of Savannah, even before Atlanta de- 
segregated, had joined our staff in the summer of 1964 as Director of 
Voter Registration. Considering the size of the crowd and the time in 
which there was to organize for the march, Hosea had performed a 
Herculean task. 

There were medical units to take care of anyone who fell ill, a 
commissary to feed people, arrangements for camping in the fields 
at night, with a shuttle service to the towns for those who were not 
up to camping out. There were guardsmen or federal troops all along 
the roadside. I remember Monday night Martin was very tired and his 
feet were in poor condition. He was treated by a doctor. One of the 
marshals said to Andy Young, "Where is Dr. King going to be to- 

Andy said, "We're going back to Selma." Then the man whispered 
that there was a plot to assassinate Martin by a man disguised as a 
minister. We did not change our plans. While we maintained unarmed 
guards, we understood the FBI was on hand guarding Martin all the 

Martin made several essential telephone calls from Selma. On 
Tuesday he flew to Cleveland for a fund-raising meeting, and I went 
to Atlanta to see the children and to check on the progress of the house 
we had been renovating since late January under my supervision. On 
Wednesday we flew back to Montgomery and drove ten miles toward 

2 6 6 My Life with 

Selma to rejoin the group, and march with the others toward Mont- 
gomery. That night we camped on the outskirts of the Capitol around 
St. Jude's Hospital, where Yolanda and Marty were born. 

Famous artists including Harry Belafonte, Leonard Bernstein, Billy 
Eckstine, Nina Simone, Sammy Davis, Jr., and dozens more, put on a 
spectacular show for the marchers. I remember how dark it was, except 
for the lighted platform, how we struggled through the crowd to reach 
it, and how I had to be lifted up onto the high platform. When we 
arrived, Harry Belafonte asked me to speak, and though I begged off, 
he and Martin insisted. 

I told our companions on the march that this was in the area where 
I had grown up and spoke of how returning to Montgomery ten years 
after we first went there had a very special meaning for me. Then I 
spoke directly to the women about what all this meant for the future 
of our children, and left them with the challenge of Langston Hughes' 
poem, "Mother to Son" 

Well, son, I'll tell you: 
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair. 
It's had tacks in it, 
And splinters, 
And boards torn up, 
And places with no carpet on the floor- 

But all the time 
I'se been a-climbin' on. 
And reachin' landin's, 
And turnin' corners. 
And sometimes goin' in the dark 
Where there ain't been no light. 
So boy, don't you turn back. 
Don't you set down on the steps 
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard. 
Don't you fall now— 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 6 7 

For I'se still goin', honey, 

Fse still climbin', 

And life for me ain't been no crystal stair. 

The next day was to be the climax of the Selma drive. All night 
long busloads, trainloads, and planeloads of people were coming into 
the city to join us— I can't even guess how many. We were fifty 
thousand people in all, by the time everyone got there. They came 
from almost every state! They represented every race, religion, and 
class. They knew there were risks, but a genuine love of justice drove 
them on and a human torrent of brotherhood engulfed the "Cradle of 
the Confederacy." 

We assembled at St. Jude's and marched about two miles into the 
heart of the city. We went up Oak Street to Jefferson Davis Street, 
through the Negro section, up Mobile Street to Dexter Avenue, all 
those old familiar streets we knew so well. Oh, it was good, very good! 
The people on the sidewalks seemed to be very happy to see us, and 
when they recognized Martin they would cheer and wave. There was 
maximum security all the way— federal troops along the line and on 
roof tops, and helicopters circling overhead. We also had our own 
security. Our own unarmed marshals marched in front and behind 
Martin— more cautious than usual because of the repeated threats 
against him. 

Then, we marched past Dexter Avenue Baptist Church— a special 
thrill for Martin and me— and through the square to the beautiful 
old State Capitol, with its classic columns and great dome. Just before 
we got there, I noticed my father and mother standing in the crowd. 
They didn't seem to see me, but I asked Rev. Fred Bennette of our staff 
to get them so they could join us. Daddy King was with us too by that 
time— he could not march all the way— but to march into Montgomery 
with our family that way was a unique experience. Of course, Juanita 
and Ralph Abernathy and their children (I've always regretted that 
we didn't bring our children), Christine and A.D., all marched with 
us. Ralph Bunche, Mrs. Rosa Parks, Julie and Harry Belafonte, 

2 6 8 My Life with 

and many other old friends were there. A place was found for my 
parents on the platform, which pleased me greatly, for I wanted them 
to share this experience with us. 

As the speeches began, I looked at Rosa Parks. I sat there and 
began to think back over the years of struggle from 1955 to 1965. I 
realized we had really come a long way from our start in the bus 
protest, when only a handful of people, relatively speaking, were in- 
volved—all black people who were fighting for their dignity and the 
right to sit down in a bus. Now ten years had passed. We had de- 
segregated the buses; we had desegregated public transportation, inter- 
state as well as intrastate. Our right to use public accommodations had 
been guaranteed. We had progressed toward school integration. 

Most important of all, there was more national awareness of our 
problems than there ever had been in the whole history of the black 
struggle. When I looked out over the big crowd, I saw many white 
people and church people. There were more church people involved 
than in any demonstration we had ever had, and I said to Martin later 
that it was perhaps the greatest witness by the church since the days 
of the early Christians. I still believe that. 

I felt that this whole experience was another unique moment in 
American history, a great moment of truth. People like Jim Clark had 
said, "If you march, you do so over my dead body"; and Wallace had 
said, "They shall not pass." But here we were. Ten years ago we had 
talked about dignity, but we really felt it now. When I asked my 
father how he felt about it, he said, "This is the greatest day for 
Negroes in the history of America." He certainly spoke for all of us 
and for himself! 

Martin made a superb speech in which he said, "I stand before you 
this afternoon with the conviction that segregation in Alabama is on 
its death bed. . . . We are on the move now, and no wave ol racism 
can stop us. Let us march on to the realization of the American dream. 
The road ahead is not altogether a smooth one . . . we are still in 
for a season of suffering. How long? Not long, because no lie can live 
forever. Our God is marching on." 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 6 9 

That night, as we started for our plane, the airport was jammed 
with thousands of people waiting for their planes. They were sitting 
in all the seats and on the stairs, even on the floor. Despite the delay, 
they were all in a gay mood, laughing and talking, munching sand- 
wiches and drinking colas— strangers when they came, friends now; 
black and white together sharing a moment of happiness. Martin said 
that the scene gave him even more hope than the rally at the Capitol. 
He said it was a microcosm of a society of real brotherhood. 

Then, when we reached Atlanta, Martin was being paged for the 
telephone. He received the terrible news that Mrs. Viola Liuzzo, a 
white woman who was the wife of a Detroit official of the Teamsters 
Union, had been shot to death on Highway 80 while she was driving 
some demonstrators back to Selma. Whatever elation we had felt was 
gone in the sadness of the death of that lovely and brave woman. As a 
mother, my heart went out to her now motherless children and to her 
devoted husband who had been widowed, and now had the sole re- 
sponsibility for the children. Of course, what had obviously inflamed 
the racists who killed her had been the sight of a white woman in a 
car with black men, on a dark Alabama road. How much further we 
still had to go! 




.he Voting Rights Bill was 
signed on August 6, 1965. Although further federal legislation would 
be needed, this bill and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 represented a 
major advance in the legal protection of Negro rights. However, the 
new laws did little to help the plight of millions of blacks in the 
ghettos of the great northern cities. They were held down, not by 
segregation laws or voting restrictions, but by a more subtle yet power 
ful de facto segregation and by economic discrimination. For that 
reason their situation was in some respects worse than that ol blacks 
in the South. They were without hope. With astute insight into the 
problem, Martin soon realized that the significant long term political 
gains and the victories for human dignity, fundamental though they 
were, did not adequately relieve current intolerable distress. The 
agony of poverty required direct immediate remedies and he turned 
the direction of the Movement more fully to bread and butter issues. 
Immediately after the Selma campaign, at a meeting of the SCLC 
board in Baltimore on April 2, in spite of strong opposition on the 

2 7 1 

board, Martin proposed that SCLC expand its activities into the 
North and West. "You can expect us in Baltimore, Philadelphia, 
Detroit, Los Angeles, and Chicago," he said. "I tell you, we will take 
the nonviolent movement all over the United States." 

Martin's determination to move north was reinforced by the out- 
break of rioting in the great urban centers. There had been a bad 
riot in Harlem, in the summer of 1964. Two weeks after the Presi- 
dent signed the Voting Rights Bill, there was a devastating eruption 
of rioting in the Watts district of Los Angeles. Martin was then at 
the world convention of the Disciples of Christ in San Juan, Puerto 
Rico. He flew to Los Angeles immediately to confer with city officials, 
Governor Brown of California, and the black leaders in an attempt 
to calm the turbulence. Beyond this, and more important, he sought 
to impress upon the Establishment the fact that the people had legiti- 
mate complaints and that the solution was not to quell riots, and 
return to business as usual, but to ensure economic and political 

Some "commentators" have said that Martin Luther King ap- 
pealed only to middle-aged southern church people and had no rap- 
port with young people or blacks in the North. His close comradeship 
with the student protests and later with the black people in Chicago 
and New York, of course, belies the charge. And Martin told us after 
his trip to Watts, that as he walked the streets those terrible nights, 
the people, young and old, would gather and listen to him, thought- 
fully and sympathetically. Martin almost felt that on that night the 
response had been so strong that a new movement might have been 
founded, so ready were the people to follow him. 

Of course, the problem was that it was physically impossible to 
get to see most of the people, and that once a riot starts, the violence 
multiplies upon itself and tragedy is almost inevitable. An additional 
problem was the insensitivity of the power structure; its concern was 
almost entirely for damaged property. The damaged human lives re- 
sulting from years of segregation and discrimination only remotely 
touched those in power. 

In the early years, when he first preached nonviolence, Martin 

2 7 2 My Life with 

would be asked the inevitable question put to all men of his belief, 
"What would you do if someone were attacking vour wife?" He 
would answer, then, "I am not sure. But I hope that I would not re- 
spond with violence." Later, as his ideals of nonviolence were tested 
in fire, he was able to answer more surely, confident out of his terrible 
experiences, that he would not strike out. 

I suppose some people might think that, as a woman, I would 
resent this attitude in my husband. However, I held strong beliefs of 
my own in the principles to which we had devoted our lives, and I 
strove to be as constant as Martin in our crises. 

Even though everything Martin ever said or did was aimed at non- 
violent confrontation, when a riot took place, whether it was Watts, 
New York, Detroit, or Chicago, my husband often assumed a per- 
sonal responsibility to try to control the situation and restore the 
community to peace and harmony. Sometimes the black leaders would 
ask him to come, and sometimes it was the citv officials. He went, not 
to please the Establishment, but in the hope of sparing black people 
futile suffering. 

Martin was always saddened by the outbreaks of violence, not 
only because of the death and destruction that resulted but also be- 
cause he felt that such events set back the cause of black freedom. He 
was intensely sympathetic to the despairing blacks who rioted, and 
he understood their reasons. As he said, "Rioting is the language of 
the unheard." 

He also realized that palliative measures were not enough and 
that the roots of black discontent lay in the appalling poverty in 
which they existed— "lived" is too fine a word. This must somehow be 
corrected. At the same time, he felt that the burning and killing and 
looting terrified people, black as well as white, and intensified white 
backlash without accomplishing any but the most token reforms. 

Many whites felt guilty about the deprivations of the Negroes, 
and these outbreaks eased their consciences and gave them an excuse 
to sav, "If the Negroes are going to behave in this irresponsible way, 
they don't deserve the rights they are demanding." Rioting gave the 
white Establishment an easy way out. 

iMartin Luther King, Jr. 2 7 3 

Martin had always tried to channel the frustrations and anger of 
oppressed people into constructive courses, into massive nonviolent, 
though militant, demonstrations. He had a wonderful power of per- 
suasion and could often talk even the most bitter proponents of vio- 
lence out of their radical intentions. A perceptive person once said to 
me, "How lucky for the world that Martin Luther King, Jr., was so 
good a man. He had the gift of oratory and so powerful an ability of 
mass persuasion that, had he an evil intent, he could have caused more 
destruction than the most powerful demagogues of our time." 

Some of the ultra-militants criticized Martin and tried to identify 
him as an "Uncle Tom." They sought to depict his compassion and 
humanity as weakness and cowardice. They had little effect because 
the native wisdom of black people told them that a leader who goes 
down again and again into the streets at the head of his followers and 
faces guns and clubs is a valiant of legendary proportions. 

However, Martin was never embittered by criticism nor would he 
withdraw from the dialogue to dissuade black people from the path of 
violence. He divided the ultra-militants, and black nationalists into 
two basic groups. A few were convinced terrorists, and these he 
sought to isolate. The larger number were often honestly confused on 
tactics and, with them, he had many long discussions. He understood 
their terrible conflicts and when he had the opportunity to reach 
them he usually convinced them that there were effective and manly 
alternatives to blind violence. In Chicago, Cleveland, and elsewhere, 
Martin drew to his side men who had accepted violence as the way 
until they came under his influence. Many of them became his un- 
armed bodyguards, others suppressed violent tendencies in the ranks, 
and more than a few converted so completely to nonviolence that they 
joined the SCLC staff. 

Some black conservative leaders could not walk the streets of some 
ghettos because the hostility against them was too threatening, but 
Martin could walk alone anywhere. Even when there were reserva- 
tions about his tactics, the respect people had for his personal bravery 
and honesty was a shield. In all his years of activity in close proximity 
to millions, no black person ever laid a hand on Martin. The sole 

2 7 4 My Life with 

exception was the clinically insane woman who stabbed him in 

Martin did not have a one-dimensional, negative view of black 
nationalism. He saw it, partially, as black self-respect trying to sur- 
face. He realized that it was not necessarily anti-white, but that it is 
extremely difficult to be proudly black and to feel equal in so repres- 
sive a white society. Above all, he kept in mind that the whites who 
reproached militants in self-righteous indignation conveniently forgot 
that the evil was caused by white racism in the first place. Yet Martin 
would not compromise with hate or violence, and the careful balance 
he maintained earned him respect from both whites and blacks who 
could not yet understand each other. 

Of course Martin never merely dismissed disagreement or criti- 
cism. He constantly reevaluated his position and himself in the light 
of each new circumstance. He was quick to say, if he felt he had erred, 
"I was wrong that time." But, as I have explained, he criticized him- 
self more severely than anyone else ever did. 

As Martin pushed the Movement out from the South to the na- 
tional scene, he did even more traveling than before. Sometimes he 
would take the children on these trips. I remember his taking Marty 
and Yoki on a tour of the black-belt counties of Alabama in connection 
with a "get-out-the-vote" drive for the 1966 primaries. Later on, Marty 
went to a rally in Baltimore with Martin. He had a great sense of 
pride in being with his daddy, and especially did he love to ride in a 
motorcade from the airport with Martin, with motorcycle police clear- 
ing the way and sirens screaming. We had to be careful not to let 
him get puffed up with pride over this special treatment. 

One strange effect of such experiences is that thev gave Marty a 
very positive attitude toward policemen. Unlike most black children, 
who, because of the brutality they can see for themselves, think of 
the police as enemies, Marty found policemen fascinating. I would 
feel somewhat ironic about this with niv own recollection ol certain 
police in our experiences. When, at about five or six years old, Marty 
went with me to the airport to meet his lather, he would go up to the 
airport policeman on duty and start a conversation with him. ask him 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 7 5 

questions about himself and his God. One day I saw him reach over 
and put his hand on the policeman's revolver. I almost shouted out, 
but the man seemed perfectly relaxed, and I told myself, "Well, I 
guess it's all right. If Martv has no fear of the gun, and the policeman 
isn't worried, this is very good." 

Martin was pretty impetuous about his trips. In the summer of 
1967 we had no time to take a vacation, so we moved with the chil- 
dren to a motel on the outskirts of Atlanta to get away from the pres- 
sure at home for a few davs. As we were unpacking and getting 
settled into our room, Martin said, "I have to go to Chicago this 

Terribly disappointed, I said, "I thought you were going to be 
able to spend a week here with us." 

"Well, I'll be back tomorrow," he said. "I was just thinking I'd like 
to take Marty and Dexter with me." 

"That's a good idea, but we haven't got the right clothes for them 
here," I said. 

I telephoned our efficient housekeeper, Mrs. Dorothy Lockhart, 
who quickly got the clothes together and sent them to the motel by an 
SCLC staff aide whom my husband had contacted. All of this was 
done in about an hour's time, and they caught the plane. Ralph Aber- 
nathy took his son, Ralph, III, along. The three boys went with their 
daddies, and I was delighted knowing how good the experience was 
for them. 

After Martin decided that we should launch a campaign in the 
North, he and the staff would discuss possible cities; Chicago, Phila- 
delphia, Washington, New York, Cleveland, and Detroit were con- 
sidered. Earlier in Chicago, there had been a drive for better school 
integration by Albert Raby's Coordinating Council of Community 
Organizations. There were no segregation laws, of course, but the 
ghetto schools were all-black and completely inadequate. On his trips 
to Chicago, my husband had talked to many of the people on the 
streets, and he understood their despair and the terrible conditions 
under which they lived. He also realized that it was, in a sense, harder 

2 7 6 My Life with 

for northern blacks to pinpoint their grievances than for those of us 
in the South who had as obvious villains the Wallaces, the Jim Clarks, 
the Bull Connors. Martin felt that both the tensions and the problems 
in Chicago were so serious and the crisis so urgent, that he must ad- 
dress himself to them to avoid the worst kind of chaos. 

It was decided that Chicago would be the target city for the SCLC 
drive— a pilot project designed to dramatize the issues and focus the 
attention of the nation on the despair, hopelessness, and desperation 
of ghetto existence. 

In the summer of 1965 Martin made several trips to Chicago, and 
at one point he led a parade of twenty thousand people to City I Iall. 
In January, 1966, the SCLC staff moved in to lay the groundwork 
for the Chicago Movement. This time Martin decided not to stay at a 
hotel, but to rent a slum apartment for us in order to share with the 
people of the ghetto the kind of life that was imposed upon them 
daily by the system. I went with him when he formally took up his 
residence there, and rarely in all my life had I seen anything like it. 
Our apartment was on the third floor of a dingy building, which had 
no lights in the hall, only one dim bulb at the head of the stairs. There 
was no lock on the front door of this house; it always stood open. As 
we walked in, I realized that the floor was not concrete, but bare dirt. 
The smell of urine was overpowering. We were told that this was 
because the door was always open, and drunks came in off the street 
to use the hallway as a toilet. 

We walked up three rickety flights of stairs, in gloom you could 
hardly see through, and into our new quarters. When the owner heard 
Martin was to be his tenant, he had cleaned the apartment up and 
painted it— people laughed about that. It was a railroad flat, with a 
sitting room in front and the rest of the rooms going straight back- 
two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a bath of sorts. You had to go through 
the bedrooms to get to the kitchen. There was an old refrigerator 
which, once it was filled with food, would not keep the food cold or 
make ice. There was also a dilapidated gas stove. 1 he temperature 
outside was about fifteen degrees, and the heat in the apartment was 
hardly noticeable. Rickety wooden fire escapes led down to a narrow 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 7 7 

court. For this magnificent abode Martin had to pay ninety dollars 
a month, unfurnished. How the poor are exploited! Martin and I 
lived in and out of this apartment until the summer, when we brought 
the children to be with us. 

However, before our family settled in Chicago, on Monday, June 
6, 1966, Martin was presiding over a meeting of the SCLC staff at 
our headquarters in Atlanta. Word came in: "James Meredith has 
been shot." 

Meredith was the young man who had personally integrated the 
University of Mississippi in 1962. On June 6, 1966, he and four 
friends had started on a march through Mississippi to test civil-rights 
progress there. First reports said Meredith was killed; but Martin 
soon learned that he was only wounded and had been taken to a hos- 
pital in Memphis, Tennessee. 

Martin flew to Memphis immediately, where he was ioined by 
Floyd McKissick of CORE; Stokely Carmichael, who had just been 
elected chairman of SNCC; and Jim Lawson, who headed SCLC's 
affiliate in Memphis. Thev went to see Meredith in his hospital room. 
Knowing that Meredith was a "loner," Martin asked if it were all 
right with him if Martin and the others continued the march in Mere- 
dith's place. Meredith said, "Yes. This thing is bigger than me." 

The leaders set up headquarters in Jim Lawson's Centenarv Meth- 
odist Church. The next morning they drove out to the place where 
Meredith had been shot and started walking Highway 51 toward 
Jackson, Mississippi, with a couple of Mississippi Highway Patrol 
cars following. There was some unexpected criticism of Martin for 
doing this from conservative black leaders. Martin saw the gunning 
down of Meredith not just as an effort to stop one man, but to in- 
timidate the whole Movement for equalitv in Mississippi. His own 
sense of responsibility and deep commitment to racial justice impelled 
him to take up this crusade. 

Some of the most agonizing experiences Martin had in the whole 
struggle of the nonviolent Movement came during the Mississippi 
March. For the first time there appeared persons among his ranks 
who questioned the effectiveness of the nonviolent approach. In other 

2 7 8 My Life with 

words, nonviolence was to be severely tested, but it would survive the 

Stokely Carmichael had proposed that it should be an all-black 
march— with no whites invited or even tolerated. Martin defeated 
that idea by threatening to withdraw. Later on, at Grenada, Missis- 
sippi, Stokely started shouting the then new slogan "Black Power." 
In a heated meeting of the leaders, Martin objected and proposed 
"Black Equality." That was unacceptable to the voung radicals. But 
by using the full leverage of his name, Martin forced them to abandon 
the "Black Power" chant during that demonstration. Martin did not 
object to the concept of Black Power at all. He merely was protesting 
the violent context into which the slogan was being placed, and the 
deliberately provocative way in which it was being shouted. 

As they marched along together the next day, Carmichael said, 
"Martin, I deliberately started the Black Power thing to get you 
committed to it." 

"That's all right," Martin answered smiling. "I've been used be- 
fore. One more time won't hurt." 

The march continued for nearly three weeks, although Martin, 
because of his other commitments, had to be in and out. It was a 
tremendous drain on his personal resources, spiritual and physical, as 
well as on the resources of SCLC. There were occasional flare-ups of 
white violence, such as an incident of tear-gassing of the marchers as 
they attempted to pitch their tents at a school near Canton, Mississippi, 
and the intense hatred which they experienced in Philadelphia. Onlv 
the presence of federal agents prevented wholesale violence. 

SCLC had the full financial burden of the Mississippi March as 
well as having its staff resources fighting simultaneously on two fronts 
—Mississippi and Chicago. 

James Meredith recovered enough to join the group for the final 
day's march from Tougaloo College to the State Capitol in Jackson. 
There Martin addressed the largest turnout of black people that had 
ever gathered in Mississippi. At the end of his speech he prophesied, 
"One day, right here in Mississippi, justice will become a reality for 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 7 9 

In Mississippi, for the first time, Marty and Yoki had marched with 
us. Then, in Chicago, "Freedom Sunday" was set for July 10, 1966. 
Right after the Mississippi March ended, Martin and I took the children 
to our slum apartment there. It was pretty difficult living there with 
four children. In summer, with the windows open, it was extremely 
noisy— the roar of traffic off the main avenue just beyond us, the 
shouts and yells of young people playing in the streets, and, of course, 
noises of everything from radios to conversation from the other apart- 
ments crowded together. 

By that time we had some furniture that had been bought at a 
second-hand store and some that had been donated. Though the 
landlord had freshly painted our apartment, "because it was for 
Doctor King," the paint had been put on without scraping off the 
old paint, so that it looked smeared and uneven. The living room 
floors and hallway had been tiled, but the bedroom and kitchen 
floors were bare. I had put some curtains up and tried to do some 
decorating to make it a little more livable. In spite of all this, it was 

However, I think the experience was very meaningful for my 
children, who had never before known such poverty. Although we 
lived as simply as we could at home, our mode of life was totally dif- 
ferent from that of our comrades in the slums. There was nothing for 
the children to do except go outside the apartment building and play 
in the black dirt. There was nothing green in sight; even the play- 
ground was black dirt. The moment they were dressed and went out- 
doors, their clothes became soiled. I realized that this was everyday 
life for the children who lived there. Mv children were there by choice. 

Even at that, we were living on a far higher scale than many of 
our neighbors. I remember going through the ghetto with mv husband. 
On the third floor of one building, a family of ten was existing in one 
small apartment. There were two young babies among them, and the 
apartment had no running water and no heat in the winter. I have 
never seen such depressing conditions. The people were glad to see 
us, but at the same time they were embarrassed about their state. 
There was just nothing they could do about their multitude of prob- 

2 8 My Lif< 

e witii 

lems, and they seemed to have given up trying. I wondered how they 
managed to get enough to eat. 

Martin told them how concerned he was and that he wanted to 
help them to try to get the water turned on— there was plumbing— as 
well as the heat. Eventually we went to work on this building our- 
selves. With the help of some of our SCLC staff and supporters we 
swept down the stairs and halls and took several days' collection of 
garbage out. We encouraged the people not to pay rent but to take the 
money and fix up the apartment themselves. Later the landlord sued 
the SCLC! 

The reactions to Martin among the people of the ghetto were ex- 
tremely favorable. He was almost like a Messiah to them. Some of 
them came to greet us and welcome us to the neighborhood. They 
came to our apartment and talked to Martin about their problems and 
needs— heat, light, water, and food, and sometimes asked his help in 
paying their rent. Certain younger people seemed at first to resent our 
presence in the neighborhood. One day a teen-age gang came by. 
Martin was taking a nap, so I met with them. They started by com- 
plaining that they did not want white people around— of course some 
of our staff were white. At that moment, luckily, Bernard Lee, Andy 
Young, and Al Sampson came in. Al told them that there were a lot 
of white people who were helping our Cause and that some had even 
died for us. 

I could feel the tension rising, and I was somewhat frightened. 
My fear had grown out of my knowledge of the violence which such 
groups had customarily practiced. Bernard Lee tried to make these 
youngsters believe that we could understand their feelings. Eventually 
some of them left, but Andy, who is so gifted at working with young 
people, encouraged the leaders to stay. I had gone to the kitchen, and 
Andy came out and asked me to fix some sandwiches for them. Dora 
McDonald helped me prepare and serve the food. 

When Martin woke up and came out, one of the teen-agers said, 
"Is that really you? Is that really Martin Luther King"'' 

My husband said, "This is me. I'm Martin Luther King." 

The bov said, "You don't mean to tell me I'm sitting here with 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 8 1 

this cat who's been up there talking to Presidents! He's been up there 
eating filet mignon steaks, and now he's sitting here eating barbecue 
just like me." We could see that our presence in their neighborhood 
did help to create a feeling of identity which was to become especially 
meaningful as we escalated our Chicago program. 

Martin continued to hold meetings and to work with the gangs, 
and they became very protective toward him. They said, "You don't 
need any police around to guard you. We'll take care of you." We 
never encouraged their protection, though we understood they were 
always around. 

And, in the matter of working with white people, they finally 
said, "Well, Doctor King, we'll accept the ones which you recom- 

As he preached nonviolence to them, many of them still said, "We 
believe in violence," though gradually we won some of them over to 
our point of view. As one man said, "You know, I've been in the base- 
ment all my life. I have a daughter, and I want her to go to college, 
but I'm still in the basement." 

They were decent young men with aspirations, but the system had 
forced them into the direction of hate and violence. It meant a great 
deal to them and to us that they came to our apartment and felt free 
to talk. We tried to show them how they could use their energy con- 
structively—how they could go out and get people registered, and 
elect the right men to office to represent them. They claimed they had 
no faith in anyone anymore, but they finally said, "The only person 
we have faith in is Dr. King." 

We held workshops with the gang leaders, trying to communicate 
the discipline of nonviolence. In the end, many members of the gangs 
pledged themselves to nonviolence and demonstrated with us in 
accordance with our beliefs. The effectiveness of our work with the 
Chicago teen-age gangs is one of the greatest tributes to the nonviolent 
method, and to my husband's leadership. 

The big rally and demonstration toward which we had been 
working since October, 1965, took place at Soldier Field on Sunday, 

2 8 2 My Life with 

July 10, 1966. Fifty thousand people came, an unprecedented number 
in Chicago. We took all lour children with us on the platform, even 
though Bunny was only three. 

Back in June, Martin had announced a massive detailed program 
to bring about racial justice in Chicago. At Soldier Field, after the 
speeches and the music— Mahalia Jackson sang— Martin read his 
demands to all those people while they cheered him. When the rallv 
was over, he led them to City Hall to present the demands to Mayor 
Richard Daley. 

We had planned to let the three older children march, even 
though we were afraid it would be tiring for Dexter. Bunny had 
heard her sister and brothers talking about it, and all that day she kept 
asking, 'When are we going to march?" After the speeches were over, 
she said, "But we haven't marched yet." 

Martin never could resist Bunny's wishes. She is the greatest 
charmer of them all, full of affection and joyful spirit and an extra 
large dose of her father's ability to persuade people. When Bunnv 
takes your hand and opens her eyes at you, it's very hard not to give 
in to her. 

Martin used to say, "Sometimes I wish we could freeze Bunnv 
just the way she is— so cute, so full of innocence and sweetness." 

It was strange. I used to watch the two of them together, playing 
their games, loving each other, and I would pray that nothing would 
happen to Martin. More than with the other children, perhaps be- 
cause she was so young, I would have the most painful consciousness 
of how much Bunny needed her daddy. 

In Chicago that day, seeing that Bunny wanted so badly to come 
with us, I finally asked Martin, "What are we going to do about 

He answered, "Let her march with us." 

So we all started out together at the head of that enormous crowd 
of people. It was, I believe, the hottest day of the year. It was not a 
long march— fifteen or twenty blocks— but after the first three or four, 
Bunny got tired. She was carried the rest of the distance on the shoul 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 8 3 

ders of Bernard Lee and Andy Young. Soon she was fast asleep with 
all of her tired innocence. She never did see City Hall. 

Of course Mayor Daley was not there. In fact, City Hall was 
closed up tight. Martin was prepared, and in a magnificent symbolic 
gesture that rang down the centuries from his namesake, he nailed 
his demands to the closed door of the City Hall, as Martin Luther had 
nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door at Wittenberg. Yoki, Marty, 
and Dexter stood beside their father as he performed this ritualistic 

The march had been a beautiful nonviolent demonstration, with 
singing and apparent goodwill from bystanders and participants alike. 
We were not facing anyone like Jim Clark or Bull Connor, then. In 
1968, of course, Mayor Daley's police were brutal to white demon- 
strators for Senator Eugene McCarthy and peace in Vietnam, but in 
our case they handled the crowds efficiently and politely. The peaceful 
conditions at our march encouraged us immensely. As a follow-up, 
the next morning, Martin and a cross section of the leadership of the 
Chicago community met with Mayor Daley to discuss their demands. 
Mayor Daley rejected them flatly. This news spread rapidly over 
Chicago. Then, the very same night, as suddenly as a summer thun- 
derstorm, violence erupted. 

A mass meeting had been scheduled for Monday night, and that 
evening, Martin and I had dinner at Mahalia Jackson's house. As we 
were leaving, she said, "I used to sing at all the churches around here, 
so I know where your meeting is being held. I'll come along and show 
you the way." 

Driving toward the church, we saw a crowd of people running up 
the street. Martin said, "I wonder if there's a riot starting." 

As we went on, we saw gangs of young men milling around and 
heard the sharp sound of guns. Police were detouring traffic, and we 
asked them what was going on. They told us that some kids had 
turned the fire hydrants on to cool themselves. Since there are no 
su miming pools provided for children in the ghetto during the hot 
summer, this was common practice. When the police turned them 

2 8 4 My Life with 

off, the fighting started. We heard later that some of our staff people 
had tried to intervene, but the police would not let them handle the 

The youngsters started by throwing rocks and breaking windows, 
and then the gangs got involved. There did not seem to be any plan 
at all. It was a spontaneous outbreak. Yet, even a small thing can lead 
to bloody rioting, where so desperate conditions exist and with im- 
proper handling by police officials. All too often, it is the police who 
provoke the riots. 

When we got to the meeting, everyone was upset and angry. Sev- 
eral black youths had been badly beaten, and others had been arrested. 
Two groups, the Cobras and the Vice Lords had gathered across the 
street from the church, and they sent a delegation to the church say- 
ing that if the prisoners were not released immediately, they were 
going to tear up the city. 

Martin, Bernard, Andy Young, Al Raby, Mahalia, and I went to the 
police station to see what we could do. The place was crowded with 
angry people, including the parents of some of those arrested. The 
police, while not exactly hostile, were not too receptive to our coming. 

Martin persuaded the authorities to allow us to post bail for the 
prisoners. We took these young men back to the church with us and 
asked what they wanted. They talked about a swimming pool and 
other recreational facilities. Then an unwise member of the audience 
got up and said he had lived in the area all his life and he just did not 
understand why people wanted to tear down the neighborhood and 
break windows. 

Naturally this was not what the young men wanted to hear. 
They walked out, and the rest of the audience began to melt away. 

Outside the church, crowds had gathered, and cars with white 
people in them were being stopped. The police arrived, and you could 
see there might be shooting. Martin was greatly concerned and was 
trying to stop the trouble. Members of his staff kept saying to him, 
"We'll stay here and take care of things. Dr. King, please get into the 
car and leave." 

When the crowds came surging back toward us, we finally got 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 8 5 

Martin into the car and drove away. We became separated from 
Mahalia, and we were terribly worried. We had several offices in the 
various neighborhoods of Chicago and we went from one to the other 
to receive reports. 

Many of the SCLC staff were in the streets all night. Among 
them were James Orange, who worked very effectively in organizing 
the gangs, Rev. Charles Billups, Stony Cooks, James Bevel, and Al 
Sampson. They kept coming in to report. Finally someone found 
Mahalia and brought her to us. We talked to people in the streets, 
and when things seemed to have calmed down, we went to spend the 
night at Mahalia's home. 

Our good friends John and Ruth Thurston had taken the children 
just that day to visit with their six children for a few days in order to 
give me a rest; they were safe on another side of town. It was a lucky 
coincidence, since it enabled me to be on the streets with Martin for 
most of the night. 

The next day SCLC held meetings all day to try to determine the 
deeper causes of the riot and what could be done to stop it. They did 
meet with some of the gang leaders. But Chicago is such a big city, 
and we were so few, that our effectiveness was diminished. Once vio- 
lence starts, it is contagious. The problem was that we had to deal, 
not with one neighborhood, but with pockets of people scattered over 
an enormous area. 

I had to address a women's meeting at the YWCA on the North 
Side the next day at noon. I had been up nearly all night and was 
depressed, depleted, and completely exhausted. I was supposed to 
talk about unity, but that was hardly the day for it. Everyone was 
preoccupied and disturbed about what had happened the night before, 
and many of the women had been out on the streets trying to help. 
They had seen for themeslves just how desperate the conditions of 
these voting black people were. 

It was proposed that one hundred women sign a telegram to 
Mayor Daley supporting Martin's proposals. Some of the women 
seemed to be afraid to sign. Perhaps it was because their husbands 
held jobs with the city, and the wives did not want to jeopardize them. 

2 8 6 My Life with 

Because these were my husband's proposals, at first I was a little 
reluctant to push for the telegram; but at one point I felt I had to say 
something. I asked, "What are you afraid of? The time comes when 
we have to make a decision and we have to make a choice." 

After that they decided to send the telegram. They also decided, 
as I had suggested, to form an organization of women to support the 
work we were doing in Chicago. Then the director of the Y— a white 
woman— came along and said it so much better than I. She proposed 
an organization which was later called Women Mobilized for Change. 
It was integrated— white and black. It has grown to over one thousand 
members, according to its director Joan Brown, and it is doing good 
work to this day. 

That night we again stayed with Mahalia, and brought the chil- 
dren to join us. The following day the children and I went back to the 
apartment. I had to speak for a group that night on the North Side of 
town and my husband was addressing a mass meeting on the West 
Side. Without a baby-sitter, I had to take the children with me. 

While I was getting dressed, we heard glass shatter in the street. 
My children, who were looking out of the window, saw some boys go 
up and break a plate-glass shop window, shout "Black Power," and 
run away. Then we realized the riot had moved to our neighborhood. 

The people came to take us to the meeting, and 1 sat the children 
on the platform with me. When it came time for me to speak, I intro- 
duced all the children. It was long past Bunnv's bedtime, and she was 
very tired and restless. I picked her up in my arms when I introduced 
her, but she slid out of my arms and made a grab for the water pitcher 
down below. I apologized to the audience and explained how tired 
she was. I was very much aware that Bunny was on display, and 1 
was afraid people would think she was spoiled— not just tired. I got 
Yolanda to take her out while I was speaking. 

Before I finished my talk, an usher interrupted me to say, "Mrs. 
King, you have an emergency call from Dr. King." 

I spoke for two or three minutes more, explaining to the audience 
the problem, and then went to the telephone. Martin was very wor- 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 8 7 

ried. "What happened?" he asked. "I called the apartment and didn't 
get an answer. I hear they're rioting on that side of town. I thought 
it had gotten so bad you had to get the children out." 

"No," I said. "They're right here with me." 

Martin told me that he could not leave the neighborhood he was 
in because there was still trouble there. I told him I would take the 
children back to the apartment but that I hoped he would keep in 
touch with me. 

What followed was a nightmare. When we were driven back to the 
apartment, the riot was going full swing. There was a lot of broken 
glass on the streets, and as we drove down Fifteenth Street we could 
hear shooting, though I didn't know whether it was the police or the 

I went upstairs and found a British reporter and an AP reporter 
waiting. I asked them to be seated while I started getting the children 
ready for bed. The first thing the children did was to run to the 
window to see where the shots were coming from. I really shouted at 
them: "Get away from that window or you'll get your heads shot off!" 

Of course, that is exactly the kind of thing headlines are made of. 
It sounded as though I was terrified, though I really wasn't. I just 
wanted the children to move fast to a safer place, and perhaps because 
of my anxiety, it was an overly dramatic way of putting it. 

After that the reporters sat and talked for a while. They were pretty 
nervous, and I tried to reassure them, though I could understand that 
because they were white and in that neighborhood that night, anything 
could happen. The British newsman was really appalled. He couldn't 
seem to understand what was going on, or why. 

After a while the reporters left, but the next day, unfortunately, 
the headlines screamed, "Mrs. King fears for her children's lives." 

The rioting went on almost all that night. I remember after getting 
the three younger children to bed, Yolanda and I were looking out 
of the back window at a grocery store a few yards away. Young rioters 
were looting the store. I heard them when they smashed the glass, 
and I could see them getting the groceries, piling them into shopping 

2 8 8 My Life with 

carts and wheeling them away. It was very distressing to me to watch. 

At last I got Yoki to bed, and lay down myself, listening to the 
shooting. It sounded horrible. 

In the meantime my husband had called several times. The last 
time he said, "I'm here in a restaurant in the neighborhood with some 
of the fellows who are involved in this." 

He told me he was being treated to barbecue sandwiches and that 
he felt that it was important for him to stay out there with them and 
try to keep things under control. I finally went to sleep about four 
o'clock. Martin must have come in sometime after that, but I didn't 
hear him. 

Soon after the rioting ended, I took the children back to Atlanta. 
Martin kept going back to Chicago for three or four days a week. It 
had been decided to concentrate the Chicago Movement on open 
housing first. There was tremendous resistance to this in some white 
suburbs where Martin led one or two protest marches. He told me 
that never, even in the South, had he seen such hatred in the eyes of 
white people. On one occasion, when there was an open-housing 
demonstration in Gage Park, someone hit Martin in the head with a 
rock. It knocked him down, but he got up again quickly and went on. 
He was not seriously injured, but he did get another bad headache. 

This aspect of the Chicago Movement ended when, to avoid what 
seemed an inevitable bloody confrontation, a conference was held, 
over which Martin and Mayor Daley presided. Archbishop John Cody 
came, and there were representatives of the Chicago Real Estate Board, 
the Chicago Housing Authority, as well as business and industrial 
leaders, and, of course, people from SCLC and black leaders from 
Chicago. An agreement on open housing was reached and announced 
on August 26. 

We felt that we had achieved a victory after a long struggle against 
recalcitrant forces. The opposition knew that change was inevitable, 
but change does not come without pressure and without sacrifice and 
real determination. Unfortunately the agreement was never properly 
implemented. The city officials failed to keep their promises. I believe 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 8 9 

that Chicago could have avoided much tension, strife, and bloodshed 
later had this agreement been lived up to. 

In order to grapple with Chicago's problem of poverty and unem- 
ployment, SCLC next organized an Operation Breadbasket in Chicago. 
We realized how much money was taken out of the ghetto and how 
little put into it; most of the businesses, the stores, houses, and apart- 
ments have white absentee ownership. The people who live there 
pay rent and buy food; yet all the profits go to outsiders, and blacks 
don't even have an equal chance at a job. We were concerned not 
only with obtaining or upgrading more jobs for the blacks, but in get- 
ting more positions of management and ownership in the chain stores, 
the franchised businesses, and other such establishments. 

Operation Breadbasket had already been successful in Atlanta and 
was operative in seven other southern states. The technique had been 
to first make a survey of how much blacks spent in the various busi- 
ness establishments. Then we would send a committee, preferably of 
ministers, to call on the owners or managers of the businesses and ask 
them to make a proportionate effort to employ Negroes. If they did 
not comply voluntarily, their businesses would be boycotted. Daddy 
King was one of the most effective workers in this cause. He would 
tackle a business street by himself— "without a committee," as he'd 
say— and very soon after Daddy King announced to the shopkeeper, 
"Well, we have to see about getting some Negroes in here," there 
would be black employees. 

Another big problem many black communities face in becoming 
economically independent is to obtain capital. Part of our program was 
to get businesses to deposit their money in Negro banks, which are 
more likely to lend money to black businessmen than are all-white 

In Chicago, Operation Breadbasket was ably led by Rev. Jesse 
Jackson, who is now SCLC national director for Operation Bread- 
basket. Under his leadership, real progress is being made in putting 
the black man into the economic mainstream of society. 

The drive started with the milk companies and by now has spread 
all over Chicago, into practically all areas of living. They have really 


done a tremendous job, not only in terms of getting more and better 
jobs for black people, but also, I think, in terms of the spiritual develop- 
ment of our people. Operation Breadbasket has created a whole new 
way of life for many black men and women. 

I attended one of Rev. Jesse Jackson's meetings in Chicago in 
October, 1967, and I heard him give his regular message. It was 
terribly meaningful to me. There was a feeling of oneness and unity 
that seemed to me almost like the spirit of the early Christians. I have 
had a rich life, with many moving experiences, but I came away with 
the feeling that this was one of the greatest spiritual experiences I ever 

I came home and said to Martin, "I think that Jesse Jackson and 
Operation Breadbasket have something that is needed in every com- 
munity across the nation." 



hough Martin had for a long 
time been concerned with the vital question of world peace, it was 
early in 1967 that he took the most explicit and outspoken steps in 
opposing the war in Vietnam. Prior to that he was in conflict about 
spending his very limited time and effort in the cause of international 
peace and dissipating his energies from the Movement for black 
freedom. However, back in 1965, he had made a statement against the 
Vietnam war when he said, "I'm not going to sit by and see war 
escalated without saying anything about it. . . . It is worthless to 
talk about integration if there is no world to integrate. . . . The war 
in Vietnam must be stopped." He also made a public appeal for im- 
mediate Vietnam negotiations, a stand which received SCLC board 

However, this action brought such criticism from other black 
leaders, who wanted to concentrate all their efforts on improving the 
Negro's condition in America, that Martin said no more, rather than 
risk creating disunity among his people. 

2 9 2 My Life with 

By 1966 it had become apparent to Martin that not only was the 
Vietnam war wrong, but that it was engulfing huge sums of money 
that could otherwise be spent fighting poverty. In January, 1967, after 
long and serious deliberation, he decided to speak out. At a conference 
in Los Angeles he said, "The promises of the Great Society have been 
shot down on the battlefields of Vietnam. The pursuit of this widened 
war has narrowed domestic welfare programs, making the poor, white 
and Negro, bear the heaviest burdens. ... It is estimated that we 
spend $322,000 for each enemy we kill, while we spend in the so-called 
war on poverty in America only about $53 for each person classified 
as poor. . . . We must combine the fervor of the Civil Rights Move- 
ment with the peace movement." 

Martin planned to make his first speech devoted entirely to Viet- 
nam on April 4, 1967, at the Riverside Church in New York. Recalling 
it later, he said, "You know, I made a statement back in 1965, and I 
was criticized and I held back. But this time I vowed I would not 
compromise." He felt that he had been overcautious in 1965. Now he 
had come to the point where he had to speak, and he was willing to 
accept the consequences. Though Martin understood the risks, he 
did not believe that a peace statement from him would, in fact, "break 
the Civil Rights Movement apart," as many people at that time pre- 
dicted. Further, Martin believed that a leader must not try to curry 
favor, but must take the responsibility of showing his people what he 
sees as the proper course. 

I was very glad when Martin was able to take a strong position on 
the question of peace, because I felt that he had something important 
to contribute. I remember saying to him so many times, especially 
after he received the Nobel Peace Prize, "I think there is a role you 
must play in achieving world peace, and I will be so glad when the 
time comes when you can assume that role." 

I realized that this was what I felt when Martin got the Nobel 
Prize. Then, when he made the statement on Vietnam, I had the 
strong feeling that this was the beginning of a larger work for him 
which would develop into something greater than we could conceive 
at the time. All along in our struggle one phase had led to another. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 9 3 

As the years unfolded, it was like watching a scroll unfolding, you see 
more and more as you unroll it. There was a pattern and a process at 
work for the development o( mankind; and though I had said it so 
often before, I felt again at the time of the 1967 statement on peace, 
that Martin was an instrument of a Divine plan and purpose. 

I think Martin believed this, but Martin had been, until 1967, 
carefully weighing the effect a peace statement might have on the Civil 
Rights Movement. He knew that it would take a long process of educa- 
tion to make people understand the relationship between peace and 
treedom. I felt that if anyone could do this, Martin could, because the 
people had faith in him. Although perhaps they sometimes did not 
fully comprehend what he was saying, they would decide, "If Dr. 
King says it, this must be so." 

I believed that to combine the spiritual essence of the peace move- 
ment and the Civil Rights Movement would bring a lot of good people 
in this countrv together. The peace movement was composed primarily 
of whites who would be brought into closer cooperation with us. It 
would become one movement for good. You cannot separate peace and 
Ireedom; they are inextricably related. 

On Thanksgiving weekend in 1965, the largest peace demonstra- 
tion in the history of this country had been held in Washington, D.C. 
Among the leaders and speakers for this occasion were Norman 
Thomas, Dana Greeley, Homer Jack, Benjamin Spock, and myself. 
In a conversation with Dr. Spock, my feeling about Martin's role in 
the peace movement was confirmed. He had said to me, "You know, 
I met Dr. King the other day for the first time. We were both on the 
same plane and the stewardess called this to my attention. I had a chat 
with him. I don't suppose he told you what I told him. I told Dr. King 
that I feel that he could become the most important symbol for peace 
in this country, as well as for world peace. What we need in the peace 
movement is a personality who embodies the spirit of peace around 
which people can rally. We have not had such a person in this 
country since Woodrow Wilson. If Dr. King could make a world tour 
tor the cause of peace, thereby gaining for bimself world recognition 
as a symbol of peace, and could come back to this country and seek 

2 9 4 My Life with 

to unify the forces here, I believe that he would succeed. You know 
such an individual has to be a colored person. It cannot be a white 
person. I'll be retiring from my practice soon and I would be willing 
to spend the rest of my days helping Dr. King in his efforts." Since that 
time I've often thought about Dr. Spock's words. 

At first Daddy King did not approve of Martin's stand. Now, he 
says, "I could not speak out against M.L. on the peace statement, 
though, at the time, I thought he was wrong. But when he finished 
his great speech, I knew— the whole audience knew— the man was 
right. He was a genius. I am not talking about my son when I say that, 
I'm talking about a world citizen. He moved beyond us early. He did 
not belong to us, he belonged to all the world." 

The April 4, 1967, speech was made to an audience of clergy and 
laymen. Martin was among the principal speakers, along with John C. 
Bennett, Dr. Henry Steele Commager and Rabbi Abraham Heschel. 
Martin's address was called "Beyond Vietnam" and was, I think, one of 
the finest and most prophetic speeches he ever made. It was far- 
reaching both in content and import. In it he described the United 
States as the "greatest purveyor of violence todav." He said, "If 
America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read 
Vietnam." He pointed out that Negroes were "dying in dispropor- 
tionate numbers in Vietnam," a "reflection of the Negro's position in 
America." In summing up Martin said, "a nation that continues year 
after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs 
of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." 

The reaction of the press to this speech was predictable— and quite 
controversial. But I think the tact that Martin came out and made such 
a strong statement had a tremendous impact on the thinking of many 
people in the country who might have been vacillating. 

What we had not expected to be quite so strong was the reaction 
among Martin's colleagues in the Civil Rights Movement. At a board 
meeting of the NAACP on April 11, Roy Wilkins criticized Martin 
severely. Whitney Young, Jackie Robinson, and even Ralph Bundle 
also expressed publicly their disagreement with his position on Viet- 
nam. Most of them fell that the Civil Rights Cause would be hurt by 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 9 5 

his pronouncements. Many people in the North and South felt that 
the two issues were going to be confused. 

I replied to some of my friends, "Those persons who do not agree 
with my husband now, do not understand the meaning of his whole 
life. You cannot believe in peace at home and not believe in inter- 
national peace. He could not be a true follower of the nonviolent 
philosophy and condone war. You think of him as a politician, but he 
feels that as a minister he has a prophetic role and must speak out 
against the evils of society. He sees war as an evil, and therefore he 
must condemn war." 

I also pointed out that Pope Paul had recently visited this country 
and spoken against war, and my husband was really saying the same 
things. "When the Pope spoke, everyone applauded; but when a black 
man named Martin Luther King speaks, they criticize him. After all, 
Martin Luther King is a clergyman too, and taking the world as a 
whole, his influence may even be greater than that of the Pope's." 

In spite of all the criticism, Martin took part in the Spring Mobili- 
zation for Peace in New York on Saturday, April 15. I looked forward 
to being with him, because this was to be the first time we had been 
together in a peace demonstration. I tried to keep my calendar clear, 
but a couple of weekends beforehand Martin said to me, "I told the 
people who are staging the rally for peace in San Francisco that you 
would speak there. They need you out there." I must admit my disap- 
pointment in not being able to share this experience with Martin. 

Of course, I went to San Francisco. There were sixty thousand 
people in the stadium, so it was extremely worthwhile. I would like 
to have been with Martin and to have seen the quarter million people 
whom he told me about, from all walks of life, who walked solemnly 
down the streets of New York that day. 

After Martin led the demonstration for peace in New York, there 
was even more severe criticism. My husband answered it best in a 
talk he had with a young civil-rights worker who had publicly de- 
nounced him. Martin called this man on the telephone, and I listened 
to their conversation. 

Martin said, "I want you to know that this is a moral commitment 

2 9 6 My Life with 

with me, and I have had a great deal of anxiety over the fact that I 
haven't been able to take a position publicly earlier. When the day 
came when I could take a stand publicly on the war question, it was 
one of the happiest moments of my life. 

"For a long time I encouraged my wife to be active in the peace 
movement. Finally I could no longer stand silently by. I have spoken 
my convictions that this is the most evil and unjust war in the history 
of our country." 

Martin went on to review the history of the Vietnam war. When 
he finished, the young man said, "I see you do know what you're 
talking about. I admit that I just didn't understand it." 

After this conversation, Martin turned to me and said, "I know I'm 
right. I know this is an unjust and evil war. I have made my decision 
to oppose it, and whatever people say, I am going to stick to my con- 

As we reflect now on the course of events, Martin's peace activity 
marked incontestably a major turning point in the thinking of the na- 
tion. The tide began to turn to peace as the majority of the country saw 
the war as not only erroneous, impractical policy, but also unsound in 
morality. I think history will mark his boldness in speaking out so early 
and eloquently— despite singularly virulent opposition— as one of his 
major contributions. In defining these debasing national deficiencies 
and in offering constructive solutions, he was supporting the best in the 
American tradition. 

There were more terrible riots in the summer of 1967. Martin 
often said, 'Winters of delay bring about our summers of riots." He 
was terribly distressed, more so than I had ever seen him. He felt that 
people were looking to him for a creative solution, and he had not 
been able to propose one. He said, "People expect me to have answers, 
and I don't have any answers." 

Many blacks were saying that the nonviolent Movement had failed, 
but I remember saying to Martin during those days, "There are mil- 
lions of people who have faith in you and feel that you are our best 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 9 7 

Then I said to him, "I believe in you, if that means anything." 
And he replied, "Yes, it means a great deal." 

As the summer went on, he continued to think hard about a real 
solution. He wrestled with these problems as he traveled all over the 
country speaking. Everywhere the press would ask him about the riots, 
and over and over again Martin would answer, "I condemn the violence 
of the riots; but I understand the conditions that cause them. I think 
we must be just as concerned about correcting those conditions as we 
are about punishing the guilty." His agony was all the more intense 
because he felt that our nation was not willing to face up to the basic 
causes of riots which were in essence a moral issue. He would say, "I 
seriously question the will and moral power of this nation to save 
itself." He knew that only the nation could save itself from destruction. 

Toward autumn he said to me, "We must have a program centered 
around jobs and economic opportunities. We have to think in terms 
of some creative nonviolent action in these areas." He was still search- 
ing for a way. 

One person who helped him find that way was Marian Wright 
Edelman, who had been working among the poor of Mississippi. She 
had spent a good deal of time in Washington and knew of many 
programs that were available to poor people, but she had discovered 
that often the poor themselves knew nothing about them. Some way 
was needed to get these poverty programs initiated, particularly in 
states like Mississippi and Alabama. Marian had talked with a number 
of Congressmen and government officials, and she told Martin that 
they felt the climate was ready for some major thrust in the nonviolent 
Movement toward improvement of economic conditions. They thought 
that even the President might welcome some such move which would 
provide the federal government with a stimulus for action. Martin, in 
his usual fashion, began calling his trusted colleagues. He posed ques- 
tions; he studied answers. His mind was crystallizing a plan. 

My husband felt greatly encouraged by the knowledge that people 
in Washington were thinking along these lines. He came home that 
night radiating his old enthusiasm, and he said, "This is really it." He 
started talking about the possibility of a campaign in which poor 

2 9 8 My Life with 

people would go to Washington as their own representatives to plead 
their own case to all the relevant departments of government— Labor, 
Interior, Agriculture, Commerce. As he talked, Martin got more and 
more ideas, and I could see his excitement for the plan. He said, "We 
should get people from all the poverty areas, from the South and from 
the North, people who don't have jobs or resources. We must get them 
marching toward Washington. I think it would really dramatize the 
issue. It must not be just black people, it must be all poor people. We 
must include American Indians, Puerto Ricans, the Mexicans, and 
even poor whites. . . ." 

He realized that such a program would be a great change for the 
Movement, which had always focused on Negro rights. Such a power- 
ful coalition could really shake the established order and bring about 
needed structural changes to provide a better life for the poor. Martin 
felt the most difficult task might be to get the poor whites to see that 
they had a common interest with us. However, he was confident that 
it could be done. 

That was the night the Poor People's Campaign was born. The 
plan was approved by the SCLC board, and the staff began to move. 
It was decided to concentrate on ten cities and five rural areas and 
to get two hundred people from each place. That would make the first 
contingent three thousand people. Of course eventually the figure got 
much larger than that. Martin saw the Poor People's Campaign as a 
deterrent for the riots— giving people hope instead of despair and 
making them aware of programs already in existence. He also saw 
it as the answer to a pressing need for further programs. Our objectives, 
in Martin's words, were "Economic security, decent sanitary housing, 
and quality education for every American." 

As plans shaped up for the campaign, there was an enormous 
amount of preparatory work to be done. The sheer logistics of provid- 
ing an encampment and food, medical supplies, water, and toilets l"i 
that many people was tremendous. In addition, coordinating the de- 
mands of the group was an enormous job that required patience and 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 9 9 

Martin believed in a guaranteed annual wage for all people. He 
believed that private industry must share the responsibility for training 
unskilled workers for better jobs. Government must help by subsidies. 
Martin would say that, after all, America had helped her immigrants 
to become adjusted. We gave them land. We gave them training. We 
helped businessmen— in the airlines, for example— to get started by 
giving them subsidies. So we were not proposing any extraordinary 
programs for black men, who, after all, had helped to build this country 
as unpaid slaves. We were asking only that we be given our fair share 
of the opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

Martin went on what we called "people-to-people tours" to recruit 
the poor for the great march. The response was terrific. People came 
out to hear him in large numbers, and they were eager and interested 
in the whole idea. He sometimes took the children with him and they 
came home all excited. 

The enthusiasm of the people inspired Martin, as it always did. 
He had the novel idea of having a mule train go from Mississippi to 
Washington to dramatize the demonstration. Of course, being a city 
boy, he had never driven a mule train in his life, but the symbolism 
seemed so beautiful to him. As the plan grew and grew, Martin became 
more and more excited. He said to me, "This is a mammoth job. Before 
we have mobilized one city at a time, now we are mobilizing a nation." 

Earlv in March of 1968 Martin had the idea of bringing the 
leaders of other minority groups together in Atlanta— the Puerto 
Ricans, Mexicans, Indians from the reservations, and poor whites from 
Appalachia. I was recuperating from surgery which I had in late Jan- 
uary, but I went to the meeting because I thought of it as a historic 
occasion. I wanted to actually see for myself the different peoples 
sitting down in a room together discussing their common problems as 
they had never done before in this country. It was indeed a momentous 

At the meeting, the representatives talked about how they could 
participate in the campaign and whether they would be able to project 
their particular demands into the common program. It was a quite 

3 My Life with 

legitimate concern, because, as they said, "Our problems are different 
from yours." 

The discussions were very friendly and we learned a lot from 
hearing each group describe its special needs. At the end of the meet 
ing our program was endorsed, and the participants went home to 
recruit others to join us. We had all been united by one common prob- 

There were, of course, other commitments that SCLC had to ful- 
fill during these months. In the fall of 1967 there was a drive in 
Cleveland, Ohio, to register black voters. Though there were no legal 
impediments, disproportionately few Negroes were registered. A black 
candidate, Carl Stokes, was running for mayor, and Martin felt that 
his election would be a great inspiration to black people everywhere. 
Our drive succeeded in registering fifty thousand Negroes, and elect- 
ing Carl Stokes to become the first black mayor of a major American 

Though we had no major confrontation in 1967, Martin was kept 
extremely busy trying to answer all the calls upon him as leader of 
the Movement. In addition, there was his churchwork responsibility. 
Although he and Daddy King had agreed to add an assistant, the 
Reverend A. Walter Williams, to the pastors at Ebenezer, Martin 
was still preaching at least two Sundays a month at Ebenezer. I 
was always actively involved in the church work, calling on the sick 
or bereaved, attending weddings and funerals, serving on various 
church committees, doing everything I could to help Martin in his 
role as co-pastor. 

Martin always wished that he could give more time to the pastorate, 
particularly at Ebenezer. Since it was the church ol his birth, he 
loved it in a special way. His wonderful Ebenezer family had en 
couraged him and given him and his organization unstinted support 
during all the difficult years of his struggle. They were truly what he 
referred to as "the ground crew." Without them doing their job in the 
background,- in a very big way, he could not have given to the nation 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 1 

and the world the kind of leadership he did. Martin had three great 
loves outside of his family: Ebenezer Church, SCLC, and Morehouse 
College. He often said, "If I ever have anything to will, Ebenezer 
Church will certainly be included." 

But Daddy King was still a very major figure at Ebenezer. He was 
the father, and the congregation was his family, and he advised them 
in a practical as well as a spiritual sense. From the pulpit he would 
urge them to register to vote and tell them for whom they should 
vote. He would tell them when taxes were due: "You people who live 
in De Kalb County, your taxes are due January 15. I want you to 
know that." He would consult with them about their familv problems 
and would help them buy a home or get a job. In any situation, where 
there was a problem of getting action on an issue, Daddv King would 
say, "You go straight to the top. You don't start down there with the 
underlings, because they may not know what you are talking about or 
they may have been given instructions that conflict." Then he would 
find out who was head of the bureau or business establishment and 
go directly to them himself. 

He would go to bat and fight for any member of his church fam- 
ily, or for that matter any other individual in need. While Martin 
Luther King, Jr., was working with the larger issues, Martin Luther 
King, Sr., was helping individuals to implement these gains, giving 
them the courage and helping them to push through. No wonder the 
people loved him. 

No one could put Daddy King down. I remember when the arch- 
segregationist Lester Maddox was elected Governor of Georgia. He 
was the man who achieved national notoriety by arming himself with 
ax handles to keep black people out of his fried-chicken restaurant. 
As Martin put it, "Maddox just slipped into the governorship when 
the good people of Georgia were not alert." 

Plight alter Maddox's inauguration, Daddy King and a group of 
ministers working with Operation Breadbasket asked for an appoint- 
ment to discuss the complete segregation of jobs on the slate level. 
1 hey felt that Operation Breadbasket should operate to get more state 

3 2 My Life with 

jobs for Negroes. The ministers wanted Daddy King, who has a repu 
tation for his outspoken ways, to keep fairly quiet while they handled 
the Governor tactfully. 

The Governor received the delegation at the Capitol. Daddv King 
sat still for a time while the others talked. Then he burst out, "Now, 
Governor Maddox, I want you to know we didn't come here begging. 
We want our rightful share of jobs in this state, and if you don't let 
us have them we're going to get them anyway. 

"Furthermore," Daddy King said, "I've been reading about you 
in the paper, and you say you believe in segregation. You call yourself 
a Christian. How can you believe in segregation and be a Christian? 
You're a deacon of your church. What kind of preachers have you 
been listening to? I'd like to invite you to come down to Ebenezer and 
hear me preach. I think I can help you." 

To everyone's amazement, Governor Maddox said, "1 expect you 
can, Reverend King." 

When the ministers got ready to go, Governor Maddox moved 
over to Daddy King and said, "Can you come back to see me sometime? 
I'd like to talk to you some more." 

When the Governor gave his first reception at the mansion for all 
the people of Georgia, Daddy King and some of the deacons went, 
going through the receiving line in their turn. Daddv King attended 
because he felt that his presence there and that of some other black 
leaders was important. It was rather ironic that Maddox, who had 
refused to desegregate his restaurant, was the man who desegregated 
the Governor's Mansion. 

With all that there was to do, Martin and I had had no chance for 
a vacation during that period. Indeed, the last vacation we had to- 
gether was in 1965, when he went to Jamaica to speak at an all-Uni- 
versity Convocation at the University of the West Indies. I le had 
invited Ralph and Juanita Abernathy to go and we shared a week's 
vacation together as a result of the generosity ol the Government of 
Jamaica. Because of the need for privacy and his great love lor Ja- 
maica, Martin returned to Jamaica in January, 1 L '(>7, to write his 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 3 

Fourth book Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community. 
I was able to join him for about a week. It was a real vacation for me; 
though he was writing twelve to fifteen hours a day— he wrote the 
whole book in about six weeks— we had a lovely time together. Martin 
always said he liked Jamaica more than any country he ever visited. 
He spoke of the feeling of oneness with the people, often quoting 
their motto, "Out of many people one people." 

He loved the beauty of the island— the lush green mountains 
rising sheer and high from the sparkling sea. We had a charming 
cottage with a swimming pool looking out from a cliff across the 
shining waters of the Caribbean Sea. Martin swam every day as 
relaxation from his writing. 

Even though Martin was writing so hard, he was able to relax 
when he took a break. And that made me very happy. I wish I could 
say that he was left to write completely undisturbed. People found 
him even up in the hills. They were sympathetically turned away by 
Martin's kind and efficient secretary, Dora McDonald. The problems 
of his organization continued to pressure him, though for the most 
part he was relieved of his day to day responsibilities. 

In contrast, throughout 1967, and during the planning of the Poor 
People's Campaign early in 1968, we had, beyond everything, a sense 
of fate closing in. We did not let the feeling bow us down— we had 
lived with it too long for that. Years before, Martin had said to me, 
"You know, I probably won't live a long life, but if I die, I don't want 
you to grieve for me. You go on and live a normal life." 

But death was not something he was morbid about; he just talked 
about it as he would any other experience. As the civil-rights struggle 
went on, he saw the danger clearly. His knowledge of history made 
him realize that most men who had taken a strong moral position had 
to pay the price for their convictions. He even used the word "cruci- 
fied" metaphorically, saying sometimes in his speeches, "I may be 
crucified for my beliefs, and if I am, you can say, 'He died to make 
men tree. 

Although Martin thought a lot about death, it did not seem to 


depress him. When people urged him to be careful, he said, "You 
know, I cannot worry about my safety; I cannot live in fear. I have to 
function. If there is any one fear I have conquered, it is the fear of 
death." He talked about it in his sermons and quoted again the phrase, 
"If a man has not found something worth giving his life for, he is not 
fit to live." 

Though no unusual dangers seemed to threaten when he said 
that, I think that, in a sense, my husband was preparing himself for 
his fate, without consciously saying to himself, "Now, it's going to 
happen this year." Yet, it seemed almost as if there were great forces 
driving him to complete his work. The last few months before his 
death were lived at a frantic pace. I think the feeling of tremendous 
urgency he had toward the Poor People's Campaign and the prepara- 
tion that he tried to give his staff, so they could carry on without him, 
are indications of this. He worked at it as if it was to be his last and 
final assignment. At SCLC staff and board meetings he would say, with 
increasing frequency, "If anything happens to me, you must be pre- 
pared to continue." 

Yet mv husband was not morbid or gloomy about his own fate. 
As he said himself, "I'm just being realistic." Martin accepted the 
danger as a matter of course and it had little effect on his spirits. He 
was worried about the direction of the Movement and about the rise 
of violence, but, as a person, he was exuberant and lull ol spirit. 



-he strategic planning for the 
Poor People's Campaign in 1968 would have been a full-time job for 
any man. In addition, Martin had a heavy schedule of speeches in 
connection with SCLC's tremendously expanded program; and, as I 
have mentioned, I had an operation in the latter part of January. 

On February 23 Martin made an important speech in New York at 
the centennial ceremony honoring the memory of Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, 
a great man whom Martin had long admired. Dr. Du Bois, breaking 
the pattern of "patience" set by George Washington Carver and Booker 
T. Washington, had been one of the first militant black leaders and 
was the particular hero of the black nationalists. Of course, Martin, too, 
preached that we "could not wait," nor "be patient" with injustice, and 
I think his speech in February was important in demonstrating to the 
nationalists, with whom Martin hoped to find reconciliation, that 
Du Bois was as much our hero as theirs. 

In his speech Martin said that Du Bois had dedicated his brilliant 
talents to dismantling the myth of Negro inferiority, and quoted from 
his great books including Black Reconstruction in America. Martin 

3 6 My Life with 

said that Du Bois, "more than anyone else, demolished the lies about 
Negroes in their most important and creative period of history." After 
describing Du Bois's other great achievements, Martin said, "Dr. 
Du Bois has left us, but he has not died. The spirit of freedom is not 
buried in the grave of the valiant. He will be with us when we go to 
Washington to demand our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of 

As part of the preparation for the Poor People's Campaign, the 
program of getting local people ready to make the big trip, Martin 
continued the people-to-people tours. He and other SCLC staff mem- 
bers would go on tours of the various southern regions, make speeches, 
hold meetings, and recruit local leadership, always explaining to the 
people what they would have to do, how they would get to Washington, 
and so forth. 

About March 23, 1968, Martin was going off on a people-to-people 
tour through rural Georgia. He had been away from home so much 
that I felt it would be wonderful if Marty and Dexter could go along 
with him. I wanted them, whenever it was possible, to see for them- 
selves what their father was doing and to experience the inspiration of 
the Cause and of the people who followed Martin. I felt that being 
with him on some of these trips would help the boys to accept his 
absences and to share in his commitment. 

It was Friday night when Martin and I discussed whether the 
boys would go with him on his trip. Martin had planned to leave first 
thing Saturday morning, and, since we got up rather late, what scurry- 
ing it took to get their clothes ready, to give everybody breakfast, 
and to get them off in time to make their plane! 

In the hurry, I forgot to call the boys' athletic coach to explain 
that they would have to miss their Saturday-morning soccer game. 
Marty and Dexter were disciplined by their coach the following week 
for "cutting," but in the light of what happened to our family, so soon 
after this trip, I will always be grateful to God that they went with 

However, while they were gone, I worried quite a bit. Martin had 
told me that they would come home early that same evening, but the 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 7 

evening passed with nerve-racking slowness and no sign of them. I 
worried particularly because I knew they were flying in a very small 
chartered plane. Eleven o'clock rolled by, and then midnight, and I 
must confess that I became quite frantic about what had happened to 
"my boys." Bill Rutherford, our new Executive Director, telephoned 
me about another matter and he assured me that Martin and the boys 
were all right, but were running four hours behind schedule. 

When they finally got in, in the small hours of the morning, Marty 
and Dexter were excited and utterly exhausted. They described how 
the crowds had responded to their daddy's speeches, how many people 
they'd seen and how much territory they had covered. 

Dexter, who was falling off his feet with sleepiness, rubbed his 
eyes, and said, "You know, Mommy, I don't see how my daddy can 
do so much and talk to so many people and not even get tired at all!" 

It was amazing, for though Martin was tired, I'm sure, after he 
left the boys at the house he went off to his office to work on some 
writing he had to get done before the next day. Of course, he was so 
anxious that the work in which he was then engaged be successful 
that he spared himself nothing. 

I think now that it was by the intervention of Divine providence 
that the boys were given this last trip with their father, so that they 
might carry with them for the rest of their lives the vivid picture of 
Martin giving of himself to the people. 

Amid the enormous activity in connection with the Poor People's 
Campaign, there appeared a small but troublesome cloud on the 
horizon. In Memphis, Tennessee, the Sanitation Workers Union, most 
of whose members were black, had gone on strike because of the unjust 
treatment they were receiving from the newly elected Mayor, Henry 
Loeb. On February 23, while Martin was making his speech on 
Dr. Du Bois in New York, a small peaceful demonstration march 
by the union had been brutally broken up by police using clubs and 
mace, with squad cars as a sort of cavalry. 

This action outraged not only black people in Memphis but many 
whites as well. What had been a small strike by an obscure local 

3 8 My Life with 

union became a city-wide protest movement in which SCLC's local 
affiliate, headed by Jim Lawson, took a leading part. Predominantly 
white AFL-CIO unions joined in. Jim telephoned Martin for help. 
Martin went to Memphis to address a huge mass meeting, and while 
he was there, Lawson asked him to lead a protest march in Memphis 
on March 28. Against the advice of some of the SCLC staff, who 
feared such a diversion of effort might affect the planning for the Poor 
People's Campaign, Martin agreed to do so. Martin, though he also 
felt that he should not dissipate his efforts at that moment, could 
not turn down the Memphis request. He felt that his participation 
would be helpful and that it was important to give public support to 
this obviously righteous cause of black workers. 

The strain of Martin's responsibilities was growing more intense. 
At the suggestion of his doctor, he decided to go away for a few days' 
rest. Then, on March 12, just before he was to leave, he called me 
on the telephone from his office and asked, "Did you get your flowers?" 

I told him that none had come, and Martin explained that when he 
was downtown shopping for some much needed clothing lor himself, 
he had gone next door to the florist and purchased some flowers for 
me. The proprietor had promised to deliver them right away. I was 
touched by this gesture of love. By the time he had come home to 
pick up his bag to leave for the airport, the flowers had arrived. 

They were beautiful red carnations, but when I touched them I 
realized they were artificial. In all the years we had been together, 
Martin had never sent me artificial flowers. It seemed so unlike him. 
I kissed him and thanked him. I said, "They are beautiful and they're 

"Yes," Martin said. "1 wanted to give you something that you could 
always keep." 

They were the last flowers I ever got from Martin. Somehow, in 
some strange way, he seemed to have known how long they would 
have to last. 

On March 28, I had been in Washington to participate in a joint 
press conference with Dorothy Hutchinson, then international presi 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 9 

dent of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 
in which she stated her proposal for "An Honorable Peace in Vietnam." 
In my own statement, I discussed the relationship of our domestic 
policy and the urban crisis to our Vietnam involvement. 

I was just getting ready to board a plane from Washington to 
Atlanta, when I decided to call our Washington office to express my 
regrets for not having been able to drop by, and to establish some 
personal contact with them since Martin had asked me to mobilize 
support from women's organizations for the Poor People's Campaign. 
As soon as I called, the director of our Washington office for the Poor 
People's Campaign informed me that while my husband was leading 
the demonstration in Memphis, violence had erupted. He added that 
Walter Fauntroy could give me the details of the incident. The news 
was terribly disturbing and I wondered whether my husband had been 
hurt. I immediately phoned Walter who said that he had just talked 
with Martin and Ralph, and they were all right, though some people 
had been injured. "Martin is extremely depressed," he said. I felt a 
great sense of relief, knowing that he was unharmed, yet all the way 
home, I thought about Martin and how much he must be suffering. 

Martin had returned from New York that day to lead the march in 
Memphis. Planes were late, and the march had already started when 
he got there, so he was rushed by automobile to the head of the line. 
He soon realized that the march was not well disciplined— there was 
never even a proper line formed. "Black Power" placards were being 
held by some marchers, and there were other things about the demon- 
stration that Martin did not know— for example, some of the younger 
black nationalists had threatened to break up the march if they were 
not given recognition. This had been a problem throughout the 
Memphis strike, but no one had told my husband about it. 

There was such a large crowd that Martin, though he now saw the 
"Black Power" signs, felt he had no choice but to get in front of the 
line and start to march. He had gone no more than a few blocks when 
he heard crashing glass and the sounds of rocks and bottles being 
thrown from the back of the line. It has been generally agreed that 
the trouble had not been started by the marchers but by gangs of 

3 1 My Life with 

young men who, using the parade as a cover, hurled rocks through 
windows and dodged in and out of the ranks to lose their identity 
among them. Some of the rioters were teen-agers who had taken off 
from school to join the march. 

It turned into a horrible situation. Mayor Loeb had brought the 
tension about in the first place by refusing even to discuss grievances. 
Now his police were ready, and they brutally moved in on the march- 
ers. Loeb also sent for the National Guard. Many people were beaten 
up, and one young man was shot in the back and killed. When he got 
home, Martin told me that he felt that after the violence started, the 
police were completely unrestrained. 

When the trouble started, Ralph Abernathy, Bernard Lee, and 
Jim Lawson begged Martin to go back to his motel. They were so 
afraid that he might become the target for violence that Martin 
finally consented. He was terribly distressed. This was the first time 
violence had ever broken out in a march he was leading. Although 
he knew that he was not responsible, he felt he would be blamed. 

When I got home to Atlanta, Martin called me. He was badly 
upset, and he said, "At the mass meeting I addressed ten days ago 
there was such a beautiful spirit of unity that I just knew everything 
would go smoothly. In the North I would have known what to expect, 
but I never knew there was a nationalist clement in Memphis. I will 
be held responsible." 

"You're not responsible for it," I said. "All the other demonstrations 
you have organized and led have not turned out this way." 

"I was leading it," he answered, "so I will be blamed. It's just a 

Again I said, "You must not hold yourself responsible, because 
you are not." 

But Martin felt terrible about what had happened. 

Bernard Lee and Ralph Abcrnathv told me later that Martin held 
a press conference that night, and he was so deeply disturbed that it 
did not go well. However, the next morning, another press conlerence 
was called, in which Martin was to outline his future plans. At this 
meeting he was full of fire. He said to the reporters, "Gentlemen, this 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 11 

isn't going to be a regular press conference; it's going to be a press 
briefing." And he started talking with complete assurance, the words 
just flowing out or him as they did when he was inspired. Bernard Lee 
told me that the statement was like a sermon, a message concerning 
Martin's principles of nonviolence. He was trying to help the press 
understand what had gone wrong in Memphis. He spoke of the 
frustrations suffered by the black people there and how they could not 
be blamed. He restated his own total commitment to nonviolence. He 
poured out his soul! 

Apparently it was so moving that Bernard said, "I have heard Martin 
speak many times, and I have been in a lot of press conferences, but 
I had never heard him in a press conference in which he was as 
eloquent, profound, and moving as that one. Martin must be called 
to do what he is doing. He could not have changed as he did in one 
night if God had not put his hands on him." 

Ralph Abernathy told me the same thing. He said, "I saw a quality 
in Martin I hadn't seen before— a kind of lion quality." 

One of the newsmen came up to Martin and asked, "Dr. King, 
what has happened to you since last night? Have you talked with 

And Martin said, "No. I haven't talked with anyone. I have only 
talked with God." 

The next day was Friday and Martin came home from Memphis. 
We were holding our church revival. A visiting minister was there, and 
Daddy and Mamma King and I had been invited to dinner at the 
home of our assistant pastor, the Reverend A. Walter Williams, and his 
wife. Mrs. Williams had called that morning, and I told her that if 
there were no emergencies I'd be happy to come. 

Then, at about four o'clock, Dora McDonald called to say that 
Martin's plane was due in at 6:20 in the evening. 

I said to myself, "If I go to the dinner, I won't be here when 
Martin comes." I did not have to meet him— he would come with 
Ralph who had lctt his car at the airport— but I knew that he always 
expected me to be home when he arrived. He would come into the 

3 12 My Life with 

house and call out to me. I always wanted to be there to answer him. 
I knew, of course, that Mrs. Williams would gladly have had Martin 
come along, but I also realized that he would be tired out and would 
badly want to spend the evening quietly at home. 

Finally, at about five-thirty, I called the Williams home. Daddy 
King was already there and answered the telephone, and I asked him 
to explain to the Williamses my dilemma. 

Soon after that, Martin came home. As always, the first thing 
he did when he came through the door was to call, "Where's Coretta?" 

I came rushing from my bedroom and we kissed. Then we ate 
dinner together, and Martin talked about what had happened in 
Memphis. He was still sorrowful and disturbed. Afterward, when I 
thought back on that evening, I was very glad that we had shared 
it quietly together— I hope that I was able to give him some comfort. 

The next day Martin called all the administrative staff of SCLC 
together, as well as Jim Lawson from Memphis and board members 
from other places, to try to decide whether or not we should continue 
to be involved in Memphis. You see, though it was not part of the 
Poor People's Campaign, it was consistent, because here were people, 
garbage workers, who were the worst paid and had the lowest status 
of any group, demanding better wages and better working conditions. 
My husband felt he should be identified with them. He said, "This is 
not a race war, it is now a class war." 

This was a very important meeting for my husband. It was not 
held at headquarters, but in his study at Ebenezer. Martin was 
experiencing great anxiety, not only about Memphis, but also about 
the Poor People's March on Washington. There was much criticism 
in the press about so great a number of people converging on the city. 
It was felt that the demonstration would surely bring violence to the 
capital of the United States. During those days Martin kept saying 
that this was the last chance for nonviolence to work in America. He 
thought it could work. He felt very strongly about it and was ready 
to put all the resources of SCLC behind the preliminary skirmish in 
Memphis. He knew that what had happened there during the March 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 13 

28 demonstration would heighten the fears of many people and 
make it more difficult for the Washington campaign to succeed. 
Martin's great task was to impress upon everyone how important it 
was to demonstrate peacefully in Memphis. Martin felt that the only 
way this would come about would be to concentrate our forces in 
Memphis to prepare the community for a nonviolent march. While 
this would temporarily delay the Poor People's Campaign, Martin felt 
that if nonviolence succeeded in Memphis— and he believed it could 
—it would redound to the advantage of the larger plan. 

Martin was more blunt and emphatic than he had ever been 
before. He evaluated the weaknesses in the field organization, the 
quality of spirit, and the tendencies to be distracted from the principal 
goals of the hour. As one participant remarked, "When Martin com- 
bined his penetrating criticism with his eloquence, it was a withering 

All of the people present were themselves articulate and experi- 
enced. A vigorous discussion ensued and few were sparing in their 
self-criticism. In the light of what happened later, those who were 
involved in that genuinely soul-searching meeting have said it was a 
little like the Last Supper. 

At one point, Martin abruptly left the meeting to give people an 
opportunity to think and talk without his presence. He felt his tempo- 
rary absence would evoke even more frankness and insight. 

During that interval, I telephoned to find out when my husband 
was coming home for supper. Ralph Abernathy said to me, "Martin 
left here a while ago. He seemed depressed and upset with the staff, 
and he left. But he is on his way back, and while he was gone, the 
Holy Spirit came by. We are all together now. We're going to Wash- 
ington by way of Memphis." 

When finally Martin came home, he told me that it had been 
decided to go ahead with the march in Memphis. We would be 
sending our top people to organize and prepare the community. Staff 
meetings were to be held in Memphis beginning Wednesday, April 3, 
and the march was to take place on Monday, April 8. 

Martin went to Washington on Saturday night March 30, because 

3 14 My Life with 

Dean Francis Sayre had invited him to preach in the Washington 
National Cathedral on Sunday. The crowd in the Episcopal cathedral 
was said to be the largest ever assembled there— over a thousand people. 
Martin told them that before the aims of the Movement could be 
considered fulfilled, there must be "eradication of the last vestige of 
racial injustice." He said the Emancipation Proclamation had been 
like a court decision that frees a man after he has spent most of his 
life in prison. "You set him free," Martin said. "But you didn't give 
him bus fare to the city." 

He told the congregation that the Poor People's Campaign was not 
merely a dramatic gesture but a demand for long-overdue compen- 
sation. Again and again he repeated the assurance, "It will be an 
orderly nonviolent demonstration." 

Martin came home Sunday evening. We listened to President 
Johnson's famous speech declining to run for another term as President 
and calling for negotiations with North Vietnam. Like the rest of the 
country, we were greatly surprised, but we hoped that his action would 
bring us closer to peace among nations. The next day, Monday, April 
1, Martin was busy planning for Memphis and Washington. On 
Tuesday he met with the SCLC staff and then spent some time with 
the children. He was to go to Memphis Wednesday morning on a 
seven o'clock flight. 

Ralph Abernathy came by the house to pick up Martin. I got up 
very early, as I always did whenever Martin was making an early 
start. I offered Ralph some breakfast, but he said he was not hungry. 
Neither Ralph nor Martin ate anything. They even rclused coffee 
and juice. I followed Martin to the door, kissed him goodbye and 
wished him well. The children were still asleep, and they did not 
see him off. It was an ordinary goodbye, like thousands of other times 
before. Martin said he would call me that evening. 

Martin had been criticized in Memphis for staying at the Holiday 
Inn, which was considered too "fancy." The staff felt that it was the 
safest place for him, since it was away from where the demonstration 
would be held. However, sensitive to criticism, Martin reserved rooms 
in the Negro-owned and operated Lorraine Motel on Mulberry Street, 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 15 

which was near the Clayborn Temple on Mason Street where the 
marches usually started. 

Martin telephoned me that evening as he had promised. Things 
were going very well, he said. Bayard Rustin was arranging to bring 
a lot of people into Memphis from other cities, but Mayor Loeb had 
obtained a federal injunction against "nonresidents" marching or 
demonstrating in Memphis. Martin said he was going to lead the 
march on Monday, in spite of the injunction. 

Then he asked me if I had listened to the news, because he was 
concerned about the peace talks the President had called for and he 
wondered if there had been any new developments. I told him I had 
not had a chance to watch the six o'clock news. And he answered, 
"That's all right. I'll watch the eleven o'clock news. I have to go and 
speak at the mass meeting, but I'll be back in time to watch the news. 
Don't worry about it." 

Then Martin said, "I'll call you tomorrow night. . . ." 

Millions and millions of people for days and days, as the tape 
was run and rerun, watched Martin speak at the meeting that night. 
Yet, he almost had not gone because a violent rainstorm came up 
and Ralph Abernathy had felt that not many people would come. 
Martin needed rest, and Ralph volunteered to go and speak for him. 

However, when Ralph got to Clayborn Temple, he found that about 
two thousand people had turned out, in spite of the weather. They 
applauded him politely, but he knew they were disappointed. Ralph 
left the platform and telephoned Martin, urging him to come to address 
the waiting crowd. Martin put on his raincoat and went directly to 
the meeting. Ralph said, "I knew this was not my crowd. They wanted 
to hear Martin." 

Ralph, for some reason, took a much longer time introducing him 
than was usual, touching on all the highlights of Martin's life. It was 
an inspiring speech, and when Martin stepped to the platform the 
audience gave him a rousing ovation. As always, no matter how 
Martin had felt beforehand, the enthusiasm of the people inspired 
him. That night, completely spontaneously, he gave one of his greatest 

3 1 6 My Life with 

speeches. First, he told the citizens of Memphis that he was heart and 
soul with them, that their cause was just, and that he and his organi- 
zation would fight for them. He said that even if the federal injunction 
was not lifted, he would lead the march on Monday. He had the 
audience roaring with excitement and he responded in kind. 

Then the mantle of prophecy seemed to descend upon Martin. He 
told the people that his plane from Atlanta had been delayed that 
morning because "Dr. Martin Luther King is aboard," and there was 
a search for a possible bomb. He told of how, when he got to Memphis, 
there were threats and rumors of an attack on him. 

Then, Martin added, "I don't know what will happen now. We've 
got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter to me now. 
Because I've been to the mountaintop. I won't mind. 

"Like anybody else, I would like to live a long life. Longevity 
has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to 
do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And 
I've looked over, and I've seen the Promised Land. 

"I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that 
we as a people will get to the Promised Land. 

"So I'm happy tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not 
fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming ot 
the Lord. . . ." 

So intense was the audience's emotional response to Martin's 
words, so high was his own exaltation responding to their excitement, 
the action and reaction of one to the other, that he was overcome; he 
broke off there. I believe he intended to finish the quotation— "His 
truth is marching on." But he could not. 

The next day, Thursday, April 4, 1968, Martin seemed almost 
happy, despite his worry about the march. A.U. told me that it was 
the same way it had been when they were young. That afternoon they 
kidded each other and wrestled together boisterously like boys. At 
one point Martin divided they should telephone their mother. 1 
was a little strange, because he almost never called her when he was 
on a trip. They had a long, lively conversation with Mamma King, in 
which A.D. ami Martin fooled her for a while, disguising their voices, 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 1 7 

each pretending to be the other. She was so happy because she seldom 
talked to both her sons at the same time. 

Martin also talked with A.D. about the sermon my husband was 
going to preach at Ebenezer on Sunday. It was to be called "Why 
America May Go to Hell." Martin discussed it quite fully, going 
over the points he intended to stress. (On that next Sunday, it was 
A.D. who preached the sermon at Ebenezer, as he thought his brother 
would have preached it.) 

That afternoon passed at the Lorraine Motel and soon it was time 
to get ready to go out to dinner. After Martin was dressed, he went out 
on the little balcony facing the street toward a decaying roominghouse 
two hundred feet away. Ben Branch, who was to play at the meeting 
later that night, was standing below the balcony. Martin called down 
to him, "Be sure to sing, 'Precious Lord, Take My Hand' for me 
tonight, Ben. Sing it real pretty." 

Laughing, Branch said he would. 

Solomon Jones who was to drive the car that evening, called up. 
"It's getting chilly, Dr. King. Better take an overcoat." 

Martin said, "O.K., I will." 

It was almost time to go. Ralph Abernathy rushed into his room 
to put on some shaving lotion. 

At that moment came the shot. They told me it sounded like a 
firecracker. . . . 

That afternoon, Thursday, April 4, I went shopping with Yolanda. 
A few weeks before, I had decided not to buy the children Easter 
clothes. I have always felt that Easter should be regarded as a more 
sacred holy day— not a spring festival as it is celebrated, a time to buy 
new clothes and show them off. But the children really seemed to have 
so much put upon them, what with their daddy's schedule which 
took him away so much of the time, and all the rest, that I hated to 
add to their burdens by forcing them to be the only ones in Sunday 
school without new clothes. Martin agreed with me, and I had bought 
the boys new suits the Friday belore. On Thursday I took Yoki down- 

3 1 8 My Life with 

town and bought some dresses for her. I had not been home very long 
when the telephone rang. It was Jesse Jackson. He said, "Coretta, 
Doc just got shot. I would advise you to take the next thing smoking." 

It hit me hard— not surprise, but shock— that the call I seemed 
subconsciously to have been waiting for all our lives had come. I 
asked for details, and Jesse, trying to spare me, said, "He was shot in 
the shoulder." 

I sensed that it was quite serious, and I wanted to ask how seriously 
hurt he was, but I was afraid. I said, "I'll check the next flight." 

"They've taken him to St. Joseph's Hospital," said Jesse. "\\ hv 
don't you come to the hotel, and then we'll get you to the hospital?" 

Somehow I felt it might have been fatal, and 1 called Dora Mc- 
Donald and asked her to come over. Then Andy Young called from 
Memphis and told me Martin's condition was very serious. "He's not 
dead," Andy said. 

It was about 7:20 then, and I told him I'd be on the 8:25 Bight. 
Andy said, "All right. We'll be looking for you. He was shot in the 
neck. Bring someone with you." 

"Dora is on her way over here," I answered. 

"Bring Dora," Andy said. 

"Maybe Juanita Abernathy can come— I'll call her," I added. 

I turned on the television. They were talking about Martin, report- 
ing what I already knew. By that time the children had come into the 
room, and although I tried to turn the TV down, they had already 
heard enough to know that something had happened to their father. 

They asked, "What is it?" 

Yoki said, "Don't tell me! Don't tell me!" and ran crying from the 

But she soon came back. I said to her, "I'm getting ready to go to 
Memphis, because your daddy has been shot." All the children were 
in the room, and Yolanda started to help me pack. It was the lust 
time she had ever offered to do so. 

Then the telephone rang again. I he voice said, "Mrs. King, this 
is Mayor Allen. I called to ask il there is any help I can give you." 

I said, "Well, I'm leaving for Memphis on the 8:25 flight." 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 19 

Mayor Allen said, "I'm coming over myself, and I'll try to get there 
before you leave. I'll send an officer over to go with you." 

While I was getting ready, friends from all over town began com- 
ing in. There was a call from Mother King, who told me Christine 
was on the way to my house. Then Mayor Allen came, with his wife. 
Dora McDonald had come and then gone home to get her things 
and meet me at the airport. 

It was now eight o'clock. As I started to leave, Dexter asked me, 
"Mommy, when will you be back?" 

I said, "Dexter, I'll call you from Memphis and let you know 
when I'll be back." 

"Mommy, when will Daddy be back?" 

"Dexter, I'll call you from Memphis and let you know." 

Then, of course, I kissed all the children goodbye. 

Christine and her husband, Isaac, came with me to the airport, 
with the Mayor and Mrs. Allen, and Rev. Fred Bennette and his wife, 
Bernita. As we walked up the long corridor full of hurrying people, 
it all seemed unreal, nightmarish. Mayor Allen said to me, "It is such 
a senseless thing. When will people ever learn?" 

Then I heard my name echoing over the public address system. 

"Someone is paging me," I said. 

And I had a strange, cold feeling. For I knew it was the word 
from Memphis and that the word was bad. By this time, we had 
reached the gate to board the plane. I asked the Mayor to have some- 
one check the page for me. 

A few minutes later I saw Dora McDonald walking toward me 
very fast, and I noticed the expression on her face. As she came run- 
ning up, she said, "Come on! We need a room where we can sit down." 

Then I knew Martin was dead. 

We went in to the outer entrance of the ladies' lounge. 

Mayor Allen went to try to get definite confirmation, but Dora 
didn't say anything. We just clung to each other. 

Mayor Allen came back looking grave and white. Very formally 
he said, "Mrs. King, I have been asked to tell you that Dr. King is 

3 2 My Life with 

Of course I already knew. But it had not yet been said. I had been 
trying to prepare myself to hear that final word, to think and accept 
it— I was trying to make myself believe that Martin was dead. 

We all stood there stunned and weeping. Mayor Allen took my 
hand and said, "Mrs. King, what do you want to do? Do you want 
to go on to Memphis, or do you want to go back home?" 

I said, "I should go back home and see about the children. And 
then decide about going to Memphis." 

Juanita Abernathy, who had brought her children to the airport, 
returned to my house and Mayor Allen and I, and Christine and 
Isaac, rode home together. We were all silent. It was comforting to 
have Isaac and Christine with me as well as the Mayor of our City, 
who was first of all a good friend. As I reflected, groping for meaning 
in this experience, I realized that this was the Lenten season, the week 
leading up to Passion week. It was somewhat strange, yet reassuring, 
that his death would come so close to the anniversary of the death ol 
his Lord and Master. I thought of how often Martin had drawn 
analogies in life to Good Friday and Easter. Good Friday, the day of 
sorrow, the apparent triumph of evil over good. Then Easter Morn 
and the Resurrection, the coming of Joy, the triumph of life over 

Martin had often talked of the meaning of Easter in human life. 
He would say that the moments of despair and doubt were the 
Good Fridays of life. But, Martin always added, even in the darkest 
moments, something happens, and you hear the drums of Easter. As 
the clouds of despair begin to disperse, you realize that there is hope, 
and life, and light, and truth. There is goodness in the universe. 
That is what Martin saw as the meaning of Easier. 

My husband had always talked of his own readiness to give his 
life for a cause he believed in. He felt that giving himself completely 
would serve as a redemptive force in its inspiration to other people. 
This would mean that he would be resurrected in the lives of other 
people who dedicated themselves to a great cause. Martin had felt a 
mystical identity with the spirit and meaning of Christ's Passion. 
And even in those first awful moments, it went through my mind that 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 2 1 

it was somehow appropriate that Martin Luther King's supreme sacri- 
fice should come at the Easter season. 

Then I began to think of what I was going to tell my children. I 
was afraid that by this time they must have heard— without me beside 
them. But when I got home, Dexter and Bunny had been put to 
bed, and Bunny was asleep. Yolanda was sitting calmly in the foyer 
talking on the telephone. Marty was still up, but Yolanda followed 
me to my bedroom; and she said to me, "Mommy, I'm not going to 
cry! I'm just not going to cry, because my daddy's not really dead. 
He may be physically dead, but his spirit will never die, and I'm going 
to see him again in heaven." 

All this time she was insisting that she was not going to cry, tears 
were running down her soft cheeks. She said, "Mommy, you're such 
a strong and brave lady. I don't know what I would do if I were in your 

Then she said, "Mommy, should I hate the man who killed my 

I said, "No, darling, your daddy wouldn't want you to do that." 

She stopped crying before she finished talking. I put my arms 
around her and said, "But you have been so wonderful and so brave 
yourself. I'm proud of you; and your daddy would have been so proud 
of you too." 

Marty and Dexter were waiting for me in their room. Marty 
seemed a little confused; he wanted to talk, but he didn't know what 
to say. Dexter, who was only seven, said, "Mommy, when is Daddy 
coming home?" 

My heart was breaking, but keeping calm, I said, "Dexter, do you 
know your daddy was shot?" 

He said, "Yes." 

I went on. "He was hurt very badly. You go to sleep, and I'll 
tell you about it in the morning." 

He said, "All right," and he seemed to go calmly to sleep. 

But that was only the beginning of a nightmare night. 

Though people were wonderful to me, nothing could really help 

3 2 2 My Lifi 

C Wltll 

during those hours. President Johnson called and said, "I want you to 
know how deeply Mrs. Johnson and I feel for you and your family." 
And he said, "I'm getting ready to go on television to make a state- 
ment." In the telecast the President announced that he would call 
an extraordinary joint session of Congress to hear him outline a pro- 
gram of action— "of constructive not destructive action— in this hour 
of national need." 

Senator Robert Kennedy called to express his distress and sympathy. 
"I'll help in any way I can," he said. 

I told him, "I'm planning to go to Memphis in the morning to 
bring back Martin's body," and he said, "Let me fly you there, I'll 
get a plane down there. I'll be glad to do that." 

Then, knowing the large number of telephone calls that would 
be coming into the house during those days, Senator Kennedy had 
three more telephones installed in my house that same night. 

Harry Belafonte called next, and said, "Coretta, I want to come 
down tomorrow to be with you and the children. I just want to be 
there at your side and do any little menial thing to serve you in any 
way I can. I want to share this sorrow with vou, and I want you to 
know you can call on me for anything you need." 

Harry did come down on Friday, and was there when I got back 
from Memphis. He was a tremendous help throughout this period, 
because of his wisdom, insight, and sensitivity about people. 

Of course, I talked with Daddy and Mother King. Daddv King 
was terribly shaken. "I always felt I would go first," he said, over and 
over, and my heart broke for him as well as for myself. But Daddy 
King was strong when he needed to be. Two members of Ebenezer 
with whom he and the Family had been very close, Mrs. Ruth Davis 
and Mrs. Nannien Crawford, died that week, and Daddy King telt 
that he must conduct their funeral services. Mother King, to our 
relief, was a rock of strength. My own mother and brother, Obie, came 
from Marion to be with me, leaving mv father in Marion. He came 
later for the funeral. Mv sister Edvthe left everything to come and 
help me. 

During those days of sorrow, many well known people came to 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 2 3 

Atlanta to pay their respects and offer their sympathy or to attend 
the Funeral. Among them were Robert, Ethel and Jacqueline Ken- 
nedy, and Richard Nixon, who paid me a personal visit. Mrs. Eugene 
McCarthy came and offered her services in the house. Other well- 
known people made the trip to Atlanta just to come to the house and 
say, "I don't want to disturb Mrs. King. I just came to let her know 
that I was thinking about her.'' How deeply considerate they were, 
though I wished I could have greeted each one of them to thank 
them personally. 

Perhaps the most touching incident of this sort was the arrival 
of Bill Cosby and Robert Culp— the famous integrated spy team 
of television's "I Spy.'' They did not even ask to see me, but spent 
most of the afternoon at the house playing with my boys, because 
they felt that this was the best contribution they could make. In ad- 
dition, there were thousands who came whom I did not know nor had 
they ever met mv husband, but they loved him dearly. He had given 
his life, trying to make a better world for them. Their presence was 
deeply meaningful to me. 

In addition to the excellent coverage by the three major networks 
of the activities and events pertaining to my husband's death and 
funeral, each of them carried the funeral service for about six hours. 
Many schools, local government offices, and business enterprises closed 
in Martin's memory. President Johnson proclaimed Sunday April 7 
a national day of mourning. Important sports events, entertainment, 
and other programs were canceled or postponed, as were many TV 
and radio programs. 

There was a tremendous outpouring of concern throughout the 
entire nation. Everybody was being helpful. There was genuine love 
and brotherhood throughout the world during this period. We re 
ceived thousands of telegrams, cards, and letters by the tens of thou- 
sands, scores of floral pieces from people all over the world, gilts, and 
valuable contributions. 

I he largest individual contribution came from Peter Puller, an 
eminent Bostonian, who donated to the continuance of Martin's work 

3 2 4 My Life with 

sixty-two thousand dollars— the purse that had been won by his 
beautiful horse, Dancer's Image, in the Governor's Cup at Bowie, 
Maryland, on Saturday, April 6, 1968. 

Governor Nelson Rockefeller sent his plane to be at our disposal 
and offered any other assistance we might require. 

The City of Atlanta, led by Mayor Ivan Allen, Police Chief 
Herbert Jenkins and the entire police force, the businessmen, political 
and religious leaders, and all of its citizens, set a marvelous example 
before the entire nation in paying final tribute to mv husband. 1 hey 
did everything they could to try to ease the burden and the impact of 
this tragedy on our family. They brought large quantities of food 
to the house, much of it already cooked. This display of black and 
white cooperation was such a beautiful tribute to Martin's teachings. 

I kept thinking, and sometimes saying aloud, "I wish Martin 
could see how much people really care about him." I Felt that he had 
never known how much people thought of him. I remembered the 
times he had been depressed and needed a lift, and I thought that if 
he could only see how much people really cared, he would feel his 
sacrifices were worth it. 

It is true that some of the emotional reactions to mv husbands 
death had unfortunate repercussions. There were riots in sixty three 
cities across the nation, the worst in Washington, D.C. It lasted for 
three days and devastated many blocks of the capital. Though I lullv 
understood the desperate frustration with which the rioters reacted 
to Martin's death, it seemed an ironic tribute to the apostle of non- 

However, it seemed clear that this violence was in no waj en 
couraged by any faction of the Movement, but was an expression of 
the despair and hopelessness of so many of our people. 

On Friday morning, I flew to Memphis with Christine and Isaac, 
Dora McDonald, Fred Bennctte, and Bill Rutherford of SCI C, in 
the plane Senator Kennedy had provided. I waited inside while Mar 
tin's body was brought onto the plane and then traveled home with 
him to Atlanta. Ralph Abernathy, Bernard Lee, and Andy Young re- 
turned from Memphis on the same plane. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 2 5 

The children were brought to the Atlanta airport to meet us on 
our return. They boarded the plane by the front entrance while Mar- 
tin's body was removed by the rear door. I remember Bunny, who 
was five, being carried by Andy Young. She started looking around 
and she asked, "Mommy, where's Daddy?" 

I was silent, and she said again, "Mommy, where is Daddy?" By 
this time my heart was breaking. 

Finally, I took her in my arms and sat down with her, and I said, 
"Bunny, Daddy is lying down in his casket in the back of the plane, 
and he is asleep. When you see him, he won't be able to speak to you." 
I could not explain any more to her, but I knew we would go to Han- 
ley's Funeral Home from the plane and that we would open the 
casket, and perhaps that would help her understand better what I 
had told her. 

There were crowds of people at the airport and crowds at the funeral 
home waiting to get a glimpse of the casket. When we got inside, 
I told the funeral director to open the casket so that the children and 
I might see Martin. Bunny just stood there looking at her daddy. His 
face looked so young and smooth and unworried against the white- 
satin lining of the casket; there was hardly any visible damage. I 
said to Bunnv, "Daddy has gone to live with God, and he won't be 
coming back." 

She did not fully understand, but as the days unfolded, she 
gradually began to comprehend the meaning of death. She would 
sometimes ask to see her daddy, saying she missed him. 

When we got home, we began planning the funeral. It was diffi- 
cult to arrange the funeral to accommodate all the people who would 
want to come and yet keep it simple, as Martin would have wanted it. 
In fact, in his sermon at Ebenezer, on February 4, 1968, exactly two 
months prior to his death, Martin had talked about his own funeral. 
At that time he said, as he had said often to me, "If any of you are 
around when I have to meet my day, I don't want a long funeral." 

I knew Martin did not want any fanfare or extravagant tributes. 
I he main thing he was concerned about was that his funeral be in 
keeping with the kind of life he had led and the principles he had 

3 2 6 My Life with 

lived by. I don't think he would have been concerned that a large 
number of people attended. 

Yet, we felt that this ceremony should be shared by all those 
people whom he loved so much and had served during his lifetime, 
and that those who came from far-off places to honor him should be 
able to view his body for the last time. This meant he must lie in 
state for a considerable time. Also, at some point, the people should 
have an opportunity to be a part of the funeral service as they so evi- 
dently desired. We were aiming for simplicitv, dignity, and a really 
meaningful experience for everyone, that the multitude who loved 
him might see him in death as they had seen him in life. 

We decided to let Martin lie in state in Sister's Chapel at Spelman 
College from Saturday afternoon until Monday afternoon, when he 
was carried to Ebenezer Baptist Church to stay until nine o'clock 
Tuesday morning, the day of the funeral. 

Many thousands of people of all classes and all colors waited for 
hours at Sister's Chapel to pay homage to him. When I went with 
the children to Ebenezer on Monday night to view his body for the 
last time, there were lines of people that went all around the block 
from Auburn to Boulevard to Edgewood Avenue and back. I saw 
for myself how the people waited to pay their last respects to this man, 
who, as a drum major for Justice, Peace, Righteousness, and Brother- 
hood, had given his life for them and for the Cause. 

I feel indebted to so many people, the SCLC staff, and other 
friends from in and outside of Atlanta for all they did in helping the 
funeral go smoothly. I asked former SCLC executive director and 
Iriend Wyatt T. Walker to organize the logistics lor what we felt 
would be a very large number of people. 

My good friend, Bernita Bennette, was largely responsible for 
the printed program of the funeral services and she also wrote the 
obituary, helped by Edythe, Christine, and Tom OITenburger of 
SCLC's public relations department. 

On Saturday 1 Iarrv Belafonte said he thought I should make some 
sort of public statement, and we invited the press to meet with us at 
Ebenezer. There I told them that Martin would have wanted SCLC 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 2 7 

to continue under the leadership of Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, 
and the others. I thanked all our friends at SCLC, at Ebenezer, and 
throughout the world who had rallied to help at this painful time. 

Then I talked about Martin and said, "My husband often told 
the children that if a man had nothing that was worth dying for, then 
he was not fit to live. He said also that it's not how long vou live, but 
how well you live. He knew that at any moment his physical life 
could be cut short, and we faced this possibility squarely and honestly. 
My husband faced the possibility of death without bitterness or 
hatred. He knew that this was a sick society, totally infested with 
racism and violence that questioned his integrity, maligned his motives, 
and distorted his views, which would ultimately lead to his death. 
And he struggled with every ounce of his energy to save that society 
from itself. 

"He never hated. He never despaired of well doing. And he en- 
couraged us to do likewise, and so he prepared us constantly for the 

"I am surprised and pleased at the success of his teaching, for our 
children say calmly, 'Daddy is not dead; he may be physically dead, 
but his spirit will never die.' 

"Ours has been a religious home, and this too has made this 
burden easier to bear. Our concern now is that his work does not 
die. 1 Ie gave his life for the poor of the world— the garbage workers 
ul Memphis and the peasants of Vietnam. Nothing hurt him more 
than that man could attempt no way to solve problems except through 
violence. He gave his life in search of a more excellent way, a more 
effective way, a creative rather than a destructive way. 

"We intend to go nn in search ol that wav, and I hope that you 
who loved and admired him would join us in fulfilling his dream. 

" I lie day that Negro people and others in bondage are truly free, 
on the day want is abolished, on the day wars are no more, on that 
day I know my husband will rest in a long-deserved peace." 

The march in Memphis was still scheduled to be held on Mon- 
day, as Martin had planned it and as be would have wished. That 

3 2 8 My Life with 

Saturday morning Harry Belafonte said to me, "I want to talk to 
you about something that has been on my mind. You don't have to 
agree, but think about it. I think you should go to Memphis and 
march on Monday if it isn't too much for you. It would mean a great 
deal to people throughout the nation, for you just to be there." 

Immediately I replied, "I agree. I think Martin would have wanted 
me to go. I had not thought about it before, but now that you raise 
the question, I would really like to go. I may even take the children." 

So on Monday I flew to Memphis with Harry Belafonte, Justine 
Smadback, and my three oldest children in a plane Harry provided. 
There was no difficulty in Memphis. In the shock and sorrow of Mar- 
tin's death the federal injunction against the march was either for- 
gotten or rescinded; there was hardly a person in America who would 
have dared or even wanted to enforce it. We were rushed from the 
airport to the head of the line, and we marched about a mile to City 
Hall, Ralph Abernathy and the children walking beside me. There 
were twenty-five thousand, perhaps fifty thousand people marching, 
some of whom had come to Memphis from all parts of the country 
for this demonstration. There were dense crowds of people along 
the route who did not cheer or wave, but stood silent in Martin's 
memory. Even my children seemed to sense the sympathy and com- 
passion those people felt for us. 

Of course, the children sat on the platform with me at City Hall. 
There were several speeches. The theme of them was Martin Luther 
King, Jr., and the many things he had accomplished, his greatness 
and his simplicity. I know that Yolanda and Martj and even little 
Dexter were comforted to hear these good things said about their 

When it came my turn to speak, Harry Belafonte introduced me. 
I talked about Martin's qualities as a leader and as a husband and 
father. I talked about his work, his great hope for social and economic 
justice for all. I explained Martin's concept ol redemptive suffering 
and that he had been prepared to give his lite to the cause in which 
he believed. 

I low ever, in closing, I asked a question: "1 low many nun must 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 2 9 

die before we can really have a free and true and peaceful society? 
How long will it take? If we can catch the spirit and the true meaning 
of this experience, I believe that this nation can be transformed into 
a societv of love, of justice, peace, and brotherhood where all men can 
really be brothers." * 

When I finished, I received an accolade from my daughter. Yo- 
landa said, "Mommy, you were real good." 

1 hat experience in Memphis, and the inspiration I derived from 
it, helped me to get through those first days and also the long days 
ahead. I was so uplifted by the spirit of the people. The inspiration 
1 gained from them, I hope I gave back to them by being there. 

You see, I feel strongly that Martin's work must go on. In the 
same way that I had given him all the support I could during his 
lifetime, I was even more determined to do so now that he was no 
longer with us. Because his task was not finished, I felt that I must 
rededicate myself to the completion of his work. Also I felt that not 
only must I do this, but that if enough individuals joined in the work, 
Martin's dream would be realized, and his death will have served 
the redemptive purpose which he talked about so often. 

Not that I can do what Martin did; but I hope to make my con- 
tribution in my own way. In some small way, perhaps I can serve, 
as he did, the aspirations of oppressed people of all races, throughout 
the world. 

Martin's funeral was held at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Tuesday, 
April 9, 1968. The church would hold only seven hundred and fifty 
of the one hundred fifty thousand who had come to pay their respects 
to him and we were deeply sorry that they could not all be accommo- 
dated. But this was his church, his father's, and his grandfather's. 
There he was baptized, and had grown up, and been imbued with 
the deep religious faith which had guided his life and informed his 
spirit; there he and his family had preached for three generations. 
Ebenezer was one of Martin's great loves. It was only fitting that it 
should be the scene of his funeral. 

* The full text of this speech appears on page 344 of the Epilogue. 

3 3 My Life with 

Ralph Abernathy, Martin's closest friend and companion, officiated 
at the service. The people who came were truly representative of the 
total society. There were diplomats, high government officials, con- 
gressmen, governors, legislators, mayors, aldermen, judges, profes- 
sionals from the religious, educational, and business communities; civil- 
rights leaders; and the people. They were black, white, brown, red, 
and yellow. They were rich and poor, old and young, believers and 
nonbelievers; conservatives, moderates, liberals, and militants. It was 
a beautiful example of brotherhood which he worked for in life and 
achieved in death. 

It was a short service, but very beautiful. There were readings from 
the Old and New Testaments, a prayer, a short tribute, excerpts from 
some of Martin's own sermons, and music. We had chosen some of 
Martin's favorite hymns— "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," 
"In Christ There Is No East Nor West." These were followed by a 
special favorite of Martin's, "Softly and Tenderly," and, then, ap- 
propriately to his whole life, "Where He Leads Me I Will Follow." 
The choir of Ebenezer sang more beautifully and movingly than I 
have ever heard them. Mrs. Mary Gurlev, Martin's favorite meditation 
singer, sang beautifully one of his favorite hymns, "I Trust in God." 
Mrs. Jimmie Thomas sang "If I Can Help Somebody." 

The tribute was given by Dr. L. Harold DeWolf, Martin's major 
prolessor from Boston University, who had been a real inspiration to 
Martin. Dr. DeWolf said that he too had been greatly inspired by 
his pupil. 

Then in conclusion, we played a tape of Martin's own words, 
taken from the sermon he had preached at Ebenezer on February 4, 
1968, in which he talked about his own funeral. We played parts ol 
the tape of that sermon so Martin's own beloved voice could be heard 
pronouncing the words. "I'd like somebody to mention that day, that 
. . . 'Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.' 
I'd like for somebody to say that day, that . . . 'Martin Luther King, 
Ir., tried to love somebody. . . .' " * It was a very moving experience 
for me and lor our children. 

* Excerpts from the text of this sermon are on page 348 of the Epilogue. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 3 1 

How painfully beautiful the service at Ebenezer was and, at the 
same time, how fulfilling. I felt that Martin would have been pleased 
and proud. 

When we came out of the church into the sunlight there were 
tens of thousands of people standing in all the streets, who had been 
listening to the service over the loudspeakers. Martin's casket was 
brought out and placed on a flat-bed farm wagon drawn by a pair of 
mules. We chose the mule train to transport Martin's body through 
the streets of Atlanta because it was symbolic of the Poor People's 
Campaign and of the conditions among the poor of this nation with 
whom he wanted to be identified; and it characterized the struggle 
that he had waged for them throughout his life. I was pleased that 
so many people whose rights he championed were there to see that 
his identification with them persisted even in death. 

Then we began our march from Ebenezer Church to Morehouse 
College, halfway across the city; and all the people marched with 
us. We marched at his funeral because Martin had spent so much of 
his life marching for justice and freedom, and marching for human 
dignity. This was his last great march. We had thought there would 
be twenty-five to fifty thousand people who would come to pay their 
last respects to him. We were awed and deeply grateful that one 
hundred and fifty thousand people had come, so that even in death, 
Martin was leading one of the greatest marches ever held. 

It was also fitting that the final memorial service should be held 
at Morehouse College where Martin had grown from youth to man- 
hood, and had been shown the way to his ministry. And it was right 
that Dr. Benjamin Mays, his mentor, his friend, should deliver the 
eulogy. Dr. Mays had come to see me that night Martin was shot 
down in Memphis. I said to him, "You know, Dr. Mays, Martin al- 
ways said he wanted you to preach his eulogy." And he replied, "I 
always wanted him to preach mine." 

It was a long, difficult march to Morehouse. So many people, the 
slow clop, clop of the mules, the huge crowds standing respcctlullv 
silent or kneeling to pray, then following on with us. We finally 
reached the green campus and stopped in front of 1 larkness I fall, with 

3 3 2 My Life with 

its classic portico serving as a platform. The casket was taken from 
the mule train. Again, Ralph Abernathy officiated at the service. 

The service at Morehouse had been carefully planned so as to 
give it an ecumenical quality. After all, the man whose memory we 
were honoring not only transcended race and class lines, but religious 
divisions as well.* 

Before the final service began, the Morehouse College Glee Club, 
of which Martin had been a member, sang "O God Our Help in Ages 
Past"; and Martin's college friend Bob Williams, in his beautiful 
tenor voice, sang "Witness," one of Martin's favorite spirituals. After 
the prayers and Scripture readings, Mahalia Jackson sang "Precious 
Lord Take my Hand," which Martin had asked Ben Branch to sing, 
moments before he died. I think she sang more beautifully than I 
had ever heard her sing before. 

Only Dr. Mays could have spoken the eulogv as he did. It was 
pronounced with such admiration and such love for the bov man whose 
footsteps he had guided, whose work and life he had so much admired: 

"We have assembled here from every section of this great nation 
and from other parts of the world to give thanks to God that He gave 
to America, at this moment in history, Martin Luther King, Jr. Trulv 
God is no respecter of persons. How strange! God called the grandson 
of a slave on his lather's side, and said to him: Martin I uther, speak 
to America about war and peace; about social justice ami racial dis- 
crimination; about its obligation to the poor; and about nonviolence as 
a way of perfecting social change in a world of brutality and war." t 

Now it was time for the interment. Though we had not yet de- 
cided where Martin's final resting place would be, we felt that, for 
a time at least, he should lie among his people in South View Ceme- 

As we started tor the graveside, A.D., who had been at mv side 
all that long day, whispered in a husky voice, "Coretta, 1 don't think 
I can go with you all the way. Would you mind if 1 didn't:" 

* The Program of Obsequies at Morehouse College is on page 350 of the 

t The complete text of Dr. Mays' eulogy is on page 352 of the Epilogue. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 3 3 

I said, "Of course, I understand. I will ask my father and 
Harry Belafonte to escort me there, and sit beside me at the grave- 

I wanted my father, with his strength and forbearance, and I 
wanted Harry, because of what Harry had meant to Martin and to me 
all these years. Of course, the rest of the family were present but I sat 
between those two. Ralph Abernathy spoke the short burial ceremony 
and paid a brief and emotional final tribute to Martin. Then the casket 
was put into the crypt. 

In the deep pain of sorrow at that moment, I was comforted by the 
thought that everything had been so beautiful, so right, so much in 
the spirit befitting the man who had lived. 

There was one more test of my strength that day. When we got 
home and the boys had been put to bed, Marty wanted to talk to me. 
I sat on his bed, and he asked me questions about his daddy. And 
he said, "Mommy, it just makes me mad that I don't have a daddy 

I said, "Marty, I understand how you feel, but really your daddy 
will never die; and the thing we have to think about is how much, 
even by his death, how much he has helped other people and in- 
spired them; how many people have already said that they are going 
to help bring about the fulfillment of your daddy's dream." 

Then I told Marty that I heard Marlon Brando say on television 
that he was going to give a tenth of his earnings to the Cause; and 
he had urged other people to do the same thing. 

Marty said, "Yes, that's right. My principal, Mrs. Douglas, seems 
to understand better now, too." 

"Many, many people have begun to understand much more about 
what your daddy was trying to do in his lifetime," I said. 

Marty repeated, "Mrs. Douglas does seem to understand better 
now. Of course, she doesn't understand everything, but she under 
stands better." 

I could see that Marty's hurt was somewhat eased as he talked. 
He felt better and seemed not to think so much about his own loss, 

3 3 4 My Life with 

but about what his daddy did, and will continue to do in his eternal 
lifetime, for mankind. 

After we had talked, Marty was able to go to sleep. 

Marty's daddy slept, too, in his crypt in South View Cemetery. 

Upon it have been carved the triumphant words he quoted on that 
Great Day in Washington: 


Thousands ot tributes have been paid to my husband since his 
death on April 4, 1968, but the one which best describes the meaning 
of my husband's life and death was written by two of his most de- 
voted and trusted friends, Harry Belafonte and Stanlev Levison: 

"In a nation tenaciously racist, a black man sensitized its somnolent 
conscience; in a nation sick with violence, a black man preached non- 
violence; in a nation corrosive with alienation, a black man preached 
love; in a world embroiled in three wars in twenty years, a black man 
preached peace. 

"When an assassin's bullet ended Martin Luther King's life it 
failed in its purpose. More people heard his message in four days 
than in the twelve years of his preaching. His voice was stilled but his 
message rang clamorously around the globe. 

"He was stoned, stabbed, reviled, and spat upon when he lived, but 
in death there was a shattering sense that a man of ultimate goodness 
had lived among us. 

"Martin Luther King died as he lived, fighting to his last breath for 
justice. In only twelve years ol public life he evoked more respect for 
black people than a preceding century had produced. 

"We who knew him intimately cannot recall a single instance when 
he expressed a word of hatred for any man. Yet his indictment of 
segregation, discrimination, and poverty was a hurricane of fire that 
opened a new era of struggle lor freedom. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 3 5 

"Martin Luther King was not a dreamer although lie had a dream. 
His vision of a society of justice was derived from a stirring reality. 
Under his leadership millions of black Americans emerged from 
spiritual imprisonment, from fear, from apathy, and took to the streets 
to proclaim their freedom. The thunder of millions of marching feet 
preceded the dream. Without these deeds, inspired bv his awesome 
personal courage, the words would merely have woven fantasy. Mar- 
tin Luther King, the peaceful warrior, revealed to his people their 
latent power; nonviolent mass protest, firmly disciplined, enabled 
them to move against their oppressors in effective and bloodless com- 
bat. With one stroke he organized his armies and disorganized his 
adversaries. In the luminescent glare of the open streets he gave a 
lesson to the nation revealing who was the oppressed and who was 
the oppressor. 

"He was incontestably one of history's preeminent black leaders. 
Yet he was, as well, a leader to millions of white people who learned 
from him that in degrading black men, they diminished themselves, 
that in supporting black liberation they enriched themselves. 

"Few people know how humble this giant was. He had an inex- 
haustible faith in people, and multitudes felt it with their hearts and 
their minds, and went beyond respect almost to worship. And even 
fewer knew how troubled he was, and even tortured, because he 
doubted his own capacity to be unerring in the fateful decisions thrust 
upon him. 

"He drained his closest friends for advice; he searched within 
himself for answers; he prayed intensely for guidance. He suspected 
himself of corruption continually, to ward it off. None of his detractors, 
and there were many, could be as ruthless in questioning his motives 
or his judgment as he was to himself. 

"1 oday when millions of his portraits hang in simple cabins, in 
ordinary homes, and in stately halls, it is hard to recall that he forbade 
his own organization to reproduce his picture. He did not want to 
be idolized; he wanted only to be heard. 

"He wrote his own obituary to define himseli in the simple terms 


his heart comprehended. 'Tell them I tried to feed the hungry. 
Tell them I tried to clothe the naked. Tell them I tried to help some- 

"And that is all he ever did. That is why, in the nobility oF man, 
he is matchless, that is why, though stilled by death, he lives." 


J he 

here is no way to adequately ex- 
press my personal gratitude for the kind deeds, the thousands of 
tributes and memorials from around the world to my husband, except 
to dedicate my life totally to the fulfillment of his dream. 

At the time of Martin's death, we received many useful gifts for 
the house, for the children, and for me, as well as many valuable 
keepsakes. Contributions were sent to us to be used to continue my 
husband's work. Some people sent checks specifically to the children 
and myself. Others were directed to be used in any way that I saw 
fit. I have used these gifts to assist me in setting up and maintaining 
a staff and an office to handle the large volume of mail and the myriad 
requests made of me. 

This has been a period in my life when I have needed near me 
close family and friends. My sister Edythe has been at my side most 
of the time since the tragedy, relieving me of many of the demands 
that are now placed upon mc. Previously, she had been teaching 
English and dramatics at Cheyney State Teachers College where her 


understanding husband, Arthur Bagley, is a professor in the Industrial 
Arts Department. 

Bernita Bennette has played a very special role in my life as a 
special assistant, handling the press and travel arrangements for me. 

I consider Frances Lucas of New York City the best friend I have 
outside my immediate family. For more than twenty years, I shared 
with her the agony and fulfillment of our struggle. She and her hus 
band, James, had deep affection for Martin. Fran came to be with 
me for several days after Martin's death, and came back later to act 
as administrative assistant in charge of office operations for a period 
of months. 

Stanley Levison and Harry Wachtel were two of my husband's 
dear friends. They are both attorneys and Martin sought their advice 
and used them as a sounding board for his ideas. At the time of the 
tragedy they both came to offer assistance. Stanley had worked closely 
with us since the days of Montgomery. He knows the story of the 
Movement and of our personal struggles as well as anyone. Always 
working in the background, his contribution has been indispensable. 

Harry Wachtel had become active in the Movement during the 
early 1960's. Like Stanley, he donated his services to the Cause and 
was therefore one of the most important of supporters. Both of them 
have continued to assist me in many valuable ways to this day. 

Jessie Treichler, my faculty adviser and friend from Antioch, also 
came to Atlanta to be with me; as did Olive J. Williams, my first music 
teacher at Lincoln High School. Edith Savage, a good friend who 
lives in Trenton, New Jersey, came and helped with the children 
and all the household chores. Linda Page, a close friend who is a 
milliner in New York, designed my hat and veil for the funeral and 
was very helpful with shopping and getting the children ready. 

Robert Williams, our dear friend who had lived in Montgomery 
and now teaches at Grambling College in Louisiana, came to be with 
me and the children. 

In addition to his other kindnesses, Robert Kennedy sent several 
people from his staff to help, including Earl Graves. He and Burke 
Marshall gave invaluable assistance in planning and arranging for the 


funeral. Earl later helped to set up my office in order to answer the 
volume of mail that came in at the time of my husband's death. 

Dora McDonald, my husband's secretary, was really indispensable 
to me. She knew the details of Martin's organizational, as well as 
financial, life and I relied heavily on her. Obviously deeply grieved 
over his death, she exemplified a magnanimity of spirit which is un- 
paralleled. She has continued to assist me whenever possible while 
serving as secretary to Reverend Ralph Abernathy. 

Andy Young, executive vice-president of SCLC, and his wife, Jean, 
were extremely helpful at the time of the tragedy and continue to be 
so. In spite of their own personal grief and the sudden responsibility 
caused by my husband's death, Ralph and Juanita Abernathy have 
been on hand, alwavs assuring me of their help when it is needed. In 
fact, the entire SCLC staff has been marvelous, everyone doing all 
they can. 

My good friend Xernona Clayton— a woman of many talents- 
performed the task of assembling a number of dresses for my period 
of mourning, from which I chose the dress I wore to the funeral. 

My dear friend Mrs. Bertha Wormley, of Natick, Massachusetts, 
near Boston, came to be at my side and assisted with office and other 
chores for several weeks. 

Esther Turner, who now lives in Pennsylvania, contributed her 
talents to the office and household forces during those trying days 
immediately following my husband's funeral. 

I wish I could list all of the volunteers who served in varied capaci- 
ties during those difficult days before a formal office structure was 
set up. Since there was such a large number, this would be impossible. 
Some of these wonderful people were strangers whom I never met; 
others were dear friends from across the years. 

Here it is appropriate to express appreciation to Dr. Albert Manley, 
the president, and the personnel of Spelman College, for the use of 
space to set up temporary offices. This was but one example of their 
beautiful spirit of cooperation. Among the temporary office staff that 
was assembled to assist in answering the 150 thousand pieces of cor- 
respondence, as well as other expressions of love and concern, were 


several young people from the late Senator Robert Kennedy's staff. 

Ebenezer Church certainly proved themselves to be the big family 
which Daddy King speaks of so often. Their spiritual support as well 
as the physical presence of so many of the members was deeply gratify- 
ing. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Courtesy Guild (named in memory 
of my husband after his death) prepared dinner at our home for all 
the King related families, their relatives, friends and visitors on two 
separate days. They deserve special commendation. 

There were so many Atlanta friends of constant help during those 
days that I will not mention names for fear of omitting some. I can 
never express the depth of my gratitude to those who gave so much 
of themselves during those days to make my burden lighter. 

Without all these people, and many more, the time since Martin's 
death would have been infinitely more difficult for me and my children. 

Statement presented by Martin Luther King, jr., to judge Eugene 
hoe, September 5, 1958, Montgomery, Alabama. 

Your Honor, you have no doubt rendered a decision which 
you believe to be just and right. Yet, I must reiterate that I 
am innocent. I was simply attempting to enter the court hear- 
ing of a beloved friend, and at no point was I loitering. I have 
been the victim of police brutality for no reason. I was snatched 
from the steps of the courthouse, pushed through the street 
while my arms were twisted, choked and even kicked. In spite 
of this, I hold no animosity or bitterness in my heart toward 
the arresting officers. I have compassion for them as brothers, 
and as fellow human beings made in the image of God. They 
were not totally responsible for their acts. These men, like all 
too many of our white brothers, are the victims of their envi- 
ronment—an environment blighted with more than 300 years 
of man's inhumanity to man as expressed in slavery and segre- 

Your Honor, you have found me guilty. Last night my wife 
and I talked and prayed over the course of action that I should 
take in the event that this should happen. It was our conclu 
sion that I could not in all good conscience pay a fine for an act 
that 1 did not commit and above all lor brutal treatment that I 
did not deserve. With all due respect to you and your court, 
I am inwardly compelled to take this stand. 


Let me assure you, your Honor, that my position at this 
point is not some histrionic gesture or publicity stunt, for moral 
convictions never stem from the selfish urge [or publicity. 
Neither am I motivated by a desire to be a martyr, for with- 
out love even martyrdom becomes spiritual pride. My action 
is motivated by the impelling voice of conscience and a desire 
to follow truth and the will of God wherever they lead. Al- 
though I cannot pay the fine, I will willingly accept the alter- 
native which you provide, and that I will do without malice. 

I also make this decision because of my deep concern for 
the injustices and indignities that my people continue to expe- 
rience. Today, in many parts of the South, the brutality in- 
flicted upon Negroes has become America's shame. Last month, 
in Mississippi, a sheriff, who was pointed out by four eyewit- 
nesses as the man who beat a Negro to death with a blackjack, 
was freed in twenty-three minutes. At this very moment in this 
state James Wilson sits in the death house condemned to die 
for stealing less than two dollars. Can anyone at this court be- 
lieve that a white man could be condemned to death in Ala- 
bama for stealing this small amount? The Negro can no longer 
silently endure conditions of police brutality and mob violence. 
We cannot do so because we are commanded to resist evil by 
God that created us all. Let me hasten to say, your Honor, that 
I am confident that Negroes will adhere to the same quality of 
Christian love and nonviolence to overcome these conditions 
that were used in our long bus protest. I am sure that there are 
thousands of white persons of goodwill throughout the South 
who in their hearts condemn mob violence and inhuman treat- 
ment of Negroes. I call upon these persons to gird their cour 
age and speak out for law and order. 

I also make this decision because of my love for America 
and the sublime principles of liberty and equality upon which 
she is founded. I have come to see that America is in danger 
of losing her soul and can so easily drift into tragic Anarchy 
and crippling Fascism. Something must happen to awaken the 


dozing conscience of America before it is too late. The time has 
come when perhaps only the willing and nonviolent acts of 
suffering by the innocent can arouse this nation to wipe out 
the scourge of brutality and violence inflicted upon Negroes 
who seek only to walk with dignity before God and man. 

The following speech by Mrs. Martin Luther King, ]r., was given 
on April 8, 1968, at the Memphis City Hall. 

To my dear friends in Memphis and throughout this na- 

I come here today because I was impelled to come. During 
my husband's lifetime I have always been at his side when I 
felt that he needed me, and needed me most. During the 
twelve years of our struggle for human rights and freedom for 
all people, I have been in complete accord with what he stood 

I came because whenever it was impossible for my husband 
to be in a place where he wanted to be, and felt that he 
needed to be, he would occasionally send me to stand in for 
him. And so today, I felt that he would have wanted me to be 

I need not say to you he never thought in terms of his 
personal welfare, but always in terms of the Cause which he 
dedicated his life to, and that Cause we shared with him. I 
have always felt that anything I could do to free him to carry 
on his work, that I wanted to do this, and this would he the 
least that I could do. 

Three of our four children are here today, and they came 
because thev wanted to come. And I want you to know that in 


spite of the times that he had to be away from his family, his 
children knew that Daddy loved them, and the time that he 
spent with them was well spent. And I always said that it's not 
the quantity of time that is important but the quality of time. 

I have been deeply gratified, and my spirit has been up- 
lifted, because so many thousands of persons and followers 
of my husband, like you, have done so many wonderful things 
and said so many kind things to lift my spirit and that of our 
family. Your presence here today indicates your devotion, and 
I would say your dedication to those things which he believed 
in, and those things that he gave his life for. 

My husband was a loving man, a man who was completely 
devoted to nonviolence, and I don't need to say that. And he, 
I think, somehow was able to instill much of this into his 
family. We want to carry on the best we can in the tradition 
in which we feel he would want us to carry on. 

And this hour to me represents much more than just a 
time to talk about and to eulogize my husband, who I can 
say was a great man, a great father and a great husband. We 
loved him dearly, the children loved him dearly. And we know 
that his spirit will never die. 

And those of you who believe in what Martin Luther King, 
Jr., stood for, I would challenge you today to see that his spirit 
never dies and that we will go forward from this experience, 
which to me represents the Crucifixion, on toward the resur- 
rection and the redemption of the spirit. 

How many times have I heard him say, that with every 
Good Friday there comes Easter. When Good Friday comes 
these are the moments in life when we feel that all is lost, and 
there is no hope. But then Easter comes as a time of resurrec- 
tion, of rebirth, of hope and fulfillment. 

We must carry on because this is the way he would have 
wanted it to have been. We are not going to get bogged down. 
I hope in this moment we are going to go forward; we are 


going to continue his work to make all people truly free and 
to make every person feel that he is a human being. His cam- 
paign for the poor must go on. 

Twelve years ago in Montgomery, Alabama, we started 
out with the bus protest, trying to get a seat, the right to sit 
down on the bus in any seat that was available. We moved 
through that period on to the period of desegregating public 
accommodations and on through voting rights, so that we 
could have political power. And now we are at the point where 
we must have economic power. 

He was concerned about the least of these, the garbage 
collectors, the sanitation workers here in Memphis. He was 
concerned that you have a decent income and protection that 
was due you. And this was why he came back to Memphis to 
give his aid. 

We are concerned about not only the Negro poor, but the 
poor all over America and all over the world. Even' man 
deserves a right to a job or an income so that he can pursue 
liberty, life, and happiness. Our great nation, as he often said, 
has the resources, but his question was: Do we have the will? 
Somehow I hope in this resurrection experience the will 
will be created within the hearts, and minds, and the souls, 
and the spirits of those who have the power to make these 
changes come about. 

If this can be done, then I know that his death will be 
the redemptive force that he so often talked about in terms 
of one giving his life to a great cause and the things that he 
believed in. 

He often said, unearned suffering is redemptive, and if 
you give vour life to a cause in which you believe, and which 
is right and just— and it is— and if vour life comes to an end 
as a result of this, then vour life could not have been lived in 
a more redemptive way. And I think that this is what my 
husband has done. 

But then I ask the question: How manv men must die 


before we can really have a free and true and peaceful society? 
How long will it take? If we can catch the spirit, and the true 
meaning of this experience, I believe that this nation can be 
transformed into a society of love, of justice, peace, and 
brotherhood where all men can really be brothers. 

Excerpt from the sermon of Martin Luther King, Jr., preached at 
Ehenezer Baptist Church on February 4, 1968, and played at his 

Every now and then I guess we all think realistically ahout 
that day when we will be victimized with what is life's final 
common denominator— that something we call death. We 
all think about it. And every now and then I think about my 
own death, and I think about my own funeral. And I don't 
think of it in a morbid sense. Every now and then I ask 
myself, "What is it that I would want said?" And I leave the 
word to you this morning. 

If any of you are around when 1 have to meet my day, 
I don't want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to de- 
liver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. Every now 
and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not 
to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize, that isn't im- 
portant. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four 
hundred other awards, that's not important. Tell them not to 
mention where I went to school. 

I'd like somebody to mention that day, that . . . "Martin 
Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others." I'd like 
for somebody to say that dav, that . . . "Martin Luther King, 
Jr., tried to love somebody." I want you to say that dav. that 
... "I tried to be right on the war question." I want you to 


be able to say that day, that ... "I did try to feed the hun- 
gry. ' And I want vou to be able to say that day, that ... "I 
did trv, in my life, to clothe those who were naked." I want 
you to say, on that day, that ... "I did try, in my life, to 
visit those who were in prison." I want you to say that . . . 
"I tried to love and serve humanity." 

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that 
I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major 
for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of 
the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have anv 
money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious 
things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a com- 
mitted life behind. 

And that's all I want to say ... if I can help somebody 
as I pass along, if I can cheer somebodv with a word or song, 
if I can show somebodv he's traveling w : rong, then my living 
will not be in vain. If I can do my duty as a Christian ought, 
if I can bring salvation to a world once wrought, if I can 
spread the message as the master taught, then my living will 
not be in vain. 


the campus of morehouse college 
2:00 p.m. 
The Reverend Ralph David Abernathy Officiating 

PRELUDE Improvisations on Negro Spirituals 

Improvisations on "We Shall Overcome" 

PROCESSIONAL-"Cortege" Dupre 

HYMN-"0 God, Our Help in Ages Past" Isaac Watts 

PRAYER Dr. Gardner C. Tax lor* 

President, Progressive National Baptist Convention 

OLD TESTAMENT SCRIPTURE Rabbi Abraham I leschel 

Professor, Jewish Theological Seminary ol America 

SPIRITUAL-'Batoz in Gilead" Traditional 

Mi irehouse College Glee Club 

NEW TESTAMENT SCRIPTURE . . The Reverend Franklin C. 1 cj 

President. National Council of Churches 

SPIRITUAL-'7\nM Got lime to Die" Traditional 

Ebenezei Baptist Church C hoii 

* Dr. Thomas Kilgore substituted for Dr. Taylor. 

35 1 



Mayor, City of Atlanta 


Chairman, Board of Deacons, Ebenezer Baptist Church 


Bishop of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 


"Mother" of Montgomery Movement 


Chairman, Board of Directors, 
Southern Christian Leadership Conference 


Executive Vice President, 
Southern Christian Leadership Conference 

SOLO— "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" Thomas A. Dorsey 

Miss Mahalia Jackson 

EULOGY Dr. Benjamin E. Mays 

President Emeritus, Morehouse College 

HYMN— "The Morehouse College Hymn" J. O. B. Mozeley 


BENEDICTION Bishop W. R. Wilkes 

Presiding Bishop, Third Episcopal District, 
African Methodist Episcopal Church 

RECESSIONAL— "Largo" from "New World Symphony" Dvorak 

Eulogy of Dr. Martin Luther king, Jr. 

Atlanta, Georgia 

April 9, 1968 

By Benjamin E. Mays 
President Emeritus 
Morehouse College 

To be honored by being requested to give the Eulogy at 
the funeral of Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., is like asking 
one to eulogize his deceased son— so close and so dear was he 
to me. Our friendship goes back to his student days at More 
house College. It is not an easy task; nevertheless, I accept 
it, with a heavy heart and with full knowledge of my inade 
quacy to do justice to this man. It was my desire that if I 
pre deceased Doctor King, he would pav tribute to me on 
my final day. It was his wish that if he pre deceased me, I 
deliver the homily at his funeral. Fate lias decreed tbat I 
eulogize him. I wish it might have been otherwise, For after 
all, I am three score years and ten and Martin Luther is dead 
at thirty-nine. 

Although there are some who rejoice in bis death, there 
are millions across the length and breadth ol t li is. world who 
are smitten with grief that this friend of mankind all man 
kind— has been cut down in the flower of bis youth. So, multi 
tudes lure and in foreign lands, queens, kings, heads of gov 


ernments, the clergy of the world, and the common man 
everywhere, are praying that God will be with the family, the 
American people, and the President of the United States in 
this tragic hour. We hope that this universal concern will 
bring comfort to the family— for grief is like a heavy load; 
when shared it is easier to bear. We come today to help you 
carry the load. 

We have assembled here from every section of this great 
nation and from other parts of the world to give thanks to 
God that He gave to America, at this moment in history, 
Martin Luther King, Jr. Truly God is no respecter of per- 
sons. How strange! God called the grandson of a slave on his 
father's side, and said to him: Martin Luther, speak to Amer- 
ica about war and peace; about social justice and racial dis- 
crimination; about its obligation to the poor; and about 
nonviolence as a way of perfecting social change in a world 
of brutality and war. 

Here was a man who believed with all of his might that 
the pursuit of violence at any time is ethically and morally 
wrung; that God and the moral weight of the universe are 
against it; that violence is self-defeating; and that only love 
and forgiveness can break the vicious circle of revenge. He 
believed that nonviolence would prove effective in the aboli- 
tion of injustice in politics, economics, in education, and in 
race relations. He was convinced, also, that people could not 
be moved to abolish voluntarily the inhumanity of man to 
man by mere persuasion and pleading, but that thev could be 
moved to do so by dramatizing the evil through massive non- 
violent resistance. He believed that nonviolent direct action 
was necessary to supplement the nonviolent victories won in 
the federal courts. He believed that the nonviolent approach 
to solving social problems would ultimately prove to be re- 

Out of this conviction, history records the marches in 
Montgomery, Birmingham, Selma, Chicago, and other cities. 


He gave people an ethical and moral way to engage in activ- 
ities designed to perfect social change without bloodshed and 
violence; and when violence did erupt it was that which is 
potential in any protest which aims to uproot deeply en 
trenched wrongs. No reasonable person would deny that the 
activities and the personality of Martin Luther King, Jr., con- 
tributed largely to the success of the student sit-in movements; 
in abolishing segregation in downtown establishments; and 
that his activities contributed mightily to the passage of the 
civil-rights legislation of 1964 and 1965. 

Martin Luther King, Jr., believed in a united America; 
that the walls of separation brought on by legal and de facto 
segregation, and discrimination based on race and color, could 
be eradicated. As he said in his Washington Monument ad- 
dress: "I have a dream!" 

He had faith in his country. He died striving to desegre- 
gate and integrate America to the end that this great nation 
of ours, born in revolution and blood, conceived in liberty and 
dedicated to the proposition that all men are created free and 
equal, will truly become the lighthouse of freedom where 
none will be denied because his skin is black and none favored 
because his eyes are blue; where our nation will be militarily 
strong but perpetually at peace; economically secure but just; 
learned but wise; where the poorest— the garbage collectors- 
will have bread enough and to spare; where no one will be 
poorly housed, each educated up to his capacity; and where 
the richest will understand the meaning of empathy. I his 
was his dream, and the end toward which lie strove. As lie 
and his followers so often sang: "We shall overcome someday; 
black and white together." 

Let it be thoroughly understood that our deceased brother 
did not embrace nonviolence out ol tear or cowardice. Moral 
courage was one of his noblest virtues. As Mahatma Gandhi 
challenged the British I'mpirc without a sword and won, Mar 


tin Luther King, Jr., challenged the interracial wrongs of his 
country without a gun. And he had the faith to believe that 
he would win the battle for social justice. I make bold to as- 
sert that it took more courage for King to practice nonviolence 
than it took his assassin to fire the fatal shot. The assassin is 
a coward: he committed his foul act and fled. When Martin 
Luther disobeyed an unjust law, he accepted the consequences 
of his actions. He never ran away and he never begged for 
mercy. He returned to the Birmingham jail to serve his time. 

Perhaps he was more courageous than soldiers who fight 
and die on the battlefield. There is an element of compulsion 
in their dying. But when Martin Luther faced death again 
and again, and finally embraced it, there was no external pres- 
sure. He was acting on an inner compulsion that drove him 
on. More courageous than those who advocate violence as a 
way out, for they carry weapons of destruction for defense. But 
Martin Luther faced the dogs, the police, jail, heavy criticism, 
and finally death; and he never carried a gun, not even a knife 
to defend himself. He had only his faith in a just God to rely 
on; and the belief that "thrice is he armed who has his quarrels 
just." The faith that Browning writes about when he says: 
"One who never turned his back, but marched breast forward; 
Never doubted that clouds would break; Never dreamed that 
right though worsted wrong would triumph; Held we fall to 
rise, are baffled to fight better, sleep to wake." 

Coupled with moral courage was Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 
capacity to love people. Though deeply committed to a pro- 
gram of freedom for Negroes, he had love and concern for all 
kinds of peoples. He drew no distinction between the high 
and the low; none between the rich and the poor. He believed 
especially that he was sent to champion the cause of the man 
farthest down. He would probably say that, if death had to 
come, I am sure there was no greater cause to die for than 
fighting to get a just wage for garbage collectors. He was supra 


race, supra nation, supra denomination, supra class, and supra 
culture. He belonged to the world and to mankind. Now he 
belongs to posterity! 

But there is a dichotomy in all this. This man was loved 
by some and hated by others. If any man knew the meaning of 
suffering, King knew. House bombed; living day by day for 
thirteen years under constant threats of death; maliciously ac- 
cused of being a Communist; falsely accused of being insincere 
and seeking the limelight for his own glory; stabbed by a 
member of his own race; slugged in a hotel lobby; jailed over 
twenty times; occasionally deeply hurt because friends betrayed 
him— and yet this man had no bitterness in his heart, no 
rancor in his soul, no revenge in his mind; and he went up 
and down the length and breadth of this world preaching non- 
violence and the redemptive power of love. He believed with 
all of his heart, mind, and soul that the way to peace and 
brotherhood is through nonviolence, love, and suffering. He 
was severely criticized for his opposition to the war in Vietnam. 
It must be said, however, that one could hardly expect a 
prophet of Doctor King's commitments to advocate nonviolence 
at home and violence in Vietnam. Nonviolence to King was 
total commitment not only in solving the problems of race 
in the United States, but in solving the problems of the world. 

Surely this man was called of God to do this work. 11 
Amos and Micah were prophets in the eighth century, B.C., 
Martin Luther King, Jr., was a prophet in the twentieth 
century. If Isaiah was called of God to prophesy in his day, 
Martin Luther was called of God to prophesy in his time. 
If Hosea was sent to preach love and forgiveness centuries ago, 
Martin Luther was sent to expound the doctrine of nonviolence 
and forgiveness in the third quarter of the twentieth century. 
If Jesus was called to preach the Gospel to the poor, Martin 
Luther was called to give dignity to the common man. If a 
prophet is one who interprets in clear and intelligible language 
the will of God, Martin Luther King, Jr., (its that designation. 


If a prophet is one who does not seek popular causes to es- 
pouse, but rather the causes which he thinks are right, Martin 
Luther qualified on that score. 

No! He was not ahead of his time. No man is ahead of his 
time. Every man is within his star, each in his time. Each man 
must respond to the call of God in his lifetime and not in 
somebody else's time. Jesus had to respond to the call of God 
in the first century, a.d., and not in the twentieth century- 
He had but one life to live. He couldn't wait, even though 
he died young. How long do you think Jesus would have had 
to wait for the constituted authorities to accept him? Twenty- 
five years? A hundred years? A thousand? He died at thirty- 
three. He couldn't wait. Paul, Galileo, Copernicus, Martin 
Luther, the Protestant reformer, Gandhi and Nehru, couldn't 
wait for another time. They had to act in their lifetime. No 
man is ahead of his time. Abraham, leaving his country in 
obedience to God's call; Moses leading a rebellious people to 
the Promised Land; Jesus dying on a cross; Galileo on his 
knees recanting; Lincoln dying of an assassin's bullet; Wood- 
row Wilson crusading for a League of Nations; Martin Luther 
King, Jr., dying fighting for justice for garbage collectors— 
none of these men were ahead of their time. With them the 
time was always ripe to do that which was right and that 
which needs to be done. 

Too bad Martin Luther King, Jr., died so young. I feel 
that way, too. But, as I have said many times before, it isn't 
how long one lives, but how well. It's what one accomplishes 
for mankind that matters. Jesus died at thirty-three; Joan of 
Arc at nineteen; Byron and Burns at thirty-six; Keats and 
Marlowe at twenty nine; Shelley at thirty; Dunbar before 
thirty-five; John Fitzgerald Kennedy at forty-six; William 
Rainey I [arper at forty-nine; and Martin Luther King, Jr., at 

We all pray that the assassin will be apprehended and 
brought to justice. But, make no mistake, the American people 


are in part responsible for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death. 
The Memphis officials must bear some of the guilt for Martin 
Luther's assassination. The strike should have been settled 
several weeks ago. The lowest paid in our society should not 
have to strike for a more just wage. A century after Emanci- 
pation, and after the enactment of the 13th, 14th and 15th 
Amendments, it should not have been necessary for Martin 
Luther King, Jr., to stage marches in Montgomery, Birming- 
ham and Selma, and go to jail over twenty times trying to 
achieve for his people those rights which people of lighter hue 
get by virtue of their being born white. We, too, are guilty 
of murder. It is time for the American people to repent and 
make democracy equally applicable to all Americans. 

If we love Martin Luther King, Jr., and respect him, as 
this crowd testifies, let us see to it that he did not die in vain; 
let us see to it that we do not dishonor his name by trying to 
solve our problems through rioting in the streets. Violence was 
foreign to his nature. He warned that continued riots could 
produce a Fascist state. But let us see to it also that the condi- 
tions that cause riots are promptly removed, as the President 
of the United States is trying to get us to do. Let black and 
white alike search their hearts; and if there be any prejudice 
in our hearts against any racial or ethnic group, let us extermi- 
nate it and let us pray, as Martin Luther King, Jr., would 
pray if he could: "Father, forgive them for they know not 
what they do." If we do this, Martin Luther King, Jr., will 
have died a redemptive death from which all mankind will 
benefit. Morehouse College will never be the same because 
Martin Luther came by here, and the nation and the world 
will be indebted to him for centuries to come. It is natural that 
we here at Morehouse would want to memorialize him to sen e 
as an inspiration to all students who study in this center. 

I close by saying to you what Martin Luther King. Jr., 


believed, that if physical death was the -price he had to par to 
rid America of prejudice and injustice, nothing could he more 
redemptive. To paraphrase the words of the immortal John 
Fitzgerald Kennedy, permit me to say that Martin Luther 
King, Jr.'s unfinished work on earth must truly be our own. 





Abernathy, Donzaleigh, 251 

Abernathy, Juandalyn, 251 

Abernathy, Juanita, 5, 105, 151, 
205, 229, 267; and Coretta King, 
and march on Washington, 237, 

Abernathy, Ralph, 162, 219, 241, 
275, 324, 339; arrested, 135, 204; 
and Birmingham Movement, 218, 
222ff, 231, 232, and Freedom 
Rides, 200, 201; jailed, 204-5, 
224, 255; and Coretta King, 
142, 164, 167, 187, 237, 327, 339; 
and MLK Jr., 5, 9, 95, 105, 151, 
185, 195, 203, 223-24, 250, 302, 
315, 330, 332, 350; and Memphis 
demonstration, 309, 310, 311, 313, 
314, 328; and Montgomery bus 
boycott, 112, 115, 116, 119, 125, 
126, 127, 147; and Selma march, 
255, 262, 267; and SCLC, 153 

Abernathy, Ralph III, 251, 275 

Abram, Morris, 195 

Adair, Euretta, 128 

Alabama Council on Human Rela- 
tions, 110 

Albany Movement, 202-7, 218, 222 

Alexander, T. M., 134 

Alexander, T. M., Jr., 95 

Allen, Ivan, 19, 318-20, 324, 351 

American Foundation on Nonvio- 
lence, 4 

American Missionary Association, 

Anderson, Marian, 238 

Anderson, Norma, 205 

Anderson, Walter, 43, 44-45, 46- 

Anderson, William G., 202, 203, 
204, 206 

Antioch College, 39-45, 51, 61, 62, 

71,72, 137,208,338 
Associated Press, 1-2, 142 
Atlanta Negro Voters League, 82 

Bagley, Arthur, 338 

Bagley, Edythe Scott. See Scott, 

Baker, Ella, 144, 153, 168 
Baker, Wilson, 263 
Ballou, Maude, 160 
Bartol, Mrs., 48, 49, 57 
Belafonte, Harry, 144-45, 219, 225, 

266, 267, 322, 326, 328, 333, 334 
Belafonte, Julie, 267 

Bennett, John C, 294 

Bennett, L. Roy, 113, 116 

Bennett, Lerone, 84 

Bennett, Mattie, 33 

Bennette, Bernita, 319, 326, 338 

Bennette, Fred C, Jr., 190, 200, 

267, 319, 324 
Bernstein, Leonard, 266 

Bevel, Dianne Nash, 188, 202, 205 
Bevel, James, 188, 201, 205, 218, 

222, 229, 285 
Bhave, Vinoba, 177 
Billingsley, Orzell, 136, 186 
Billups, Charles, 230, 285 
Birmingham Movement, 217-33 
Blackwell, Randolph, 202 
Blair, Ezell, Jr., 188 
Bolden, Willie, 202 
Bond, Julian, 84 

Borders, William Holmes, 151, 189 
Boutwell, Albert, 218, 219-20, 221 
Boyte, Harry, 253 
Branch. Ben, 317, 332 
Brando, Marlon, 333 
Brice, fonathan, 145 
Brightman, Edgar S., 54, 88, 92 




Brooks, Joseph T., 105-6, 131 

Brooks, T. E., 182 

Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, 

Brown, Edmund G. (Pat), 271 
Brown, Joan, 286 
Brownell, Herbert, 152 
Bunche, Ralph, 5, 137, 154, 185, 

Bunche, Ruth Harris, 144 
Burks, Mary Fair, 100 
Butler, Richard, 155 

Carmichael, James, 19 

Carmichael, Stokely, 201, 277, 278 

Carter, Eugene, 136, 142, 143 

Carter, Robert, 136 

Carver, George Washington, 305 

Chalmers, Allen Knight, 138 

Chanev, James, 16, 247 

Chicago Housing Authority, 288 

Chicago Movement, 276-77, 279-90 

Chicago Real Estate Board, 288 

Clark, Ben, 202 

Clark, Jim, 259, 260, 268, 276, 283 

Clark, Kenneth, 137 

Clark, Septima, 5, 202 

Clayton, Ed, 261 

Clayton, Xernona, 261, 339 

Clement, Rufus E., 134 

Cloud, John, 260 

Cody, John, 288 

Coffin, William Sloane, Jr., 201 

Collier, Robert J., 351 

Collins, Canon, 8 

Collins, LeRov, 262 

Colvin, Claudette, 111-12 

Commager, 1 lenry Steele, 294 

Congress of Racial Equality 

(CORE), 3,137, 198,235, 


Connor, Eugene (Bull), 217, 218, 
219-20, 221, 223, 226, 229-30, 

Cooks, Stony, 285 

Coordinating Council of Commu- 
nity Organizations (Chicago), 

Cosby, Bill, 323 

Cotton, Dorothy, 5, 201, 218 

Crawford, Nannien, 322 

Crenshaw, Jack, 120 

Culp, Robert, 323 

Curry, Isola, 168-69, 170 

Daley, Richard, 282, 283, 285, 288 

Davis, Ruth, 322 

Davis, Sammv, Jr., 266 

Dean, Arthur, 209-10 

Delaney, Herbert, 186 

Democratic National Convention, 

140, 247 
Demos, Jean, 49 
Demos, Raphael, 92 
De Wolf, L. Harold, 88, 92, 330 
Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, 6. 

95-97,98-105, 112-13, 154, 164, 

181-84, 187, 201, 267 
Dobbs, John Weslev, 16 
Dobbs, Mattiwilda, 16 
Dorsev, Thomas A., 351 
Douglas, Mrs. (of Atlanta), 333 
Douglas, Mrs. Paul, 262 
Drew, John, 222 
Dubois, Rachael,253 
DuBois, W. E. B., 305-6 
Dungee, Erna A.. 1 16 
Dun, Clifford, 138 
Durr, Virginia, 138 

Ebcnczer Baptist Church, 4-5, 65- 
66, 78, 220, 249, 317, 326, 329, 




340; MLK Jr. and, 52, 86, 87, 
102, 182, 197, 216, 222, 242, 300- 
301, 325; MLK Sr. and, 10, 302 

Ebony, 84 

Eckstine, Billy, 266 

Edelman, Marian Wright, 297 

Eisenhower, Dwight D., 152, 159, 

Ellington, Duke, 144 

Eskridge, Chauncev, 186 

Evers, Medgar, 234 

Evers, Myrlie, 234 

existentialism, MLK on, 92 

Farmer, James, 137, 198, 201, 235, 

Farris, Christine, 5 

Fauntroy, Walter, 202, 235, 309 

Federal Bureau of Investigation, 
227, 247, 265 

Federation of Colored Women's 
Clubs, 203 

Fellowship of Reconciliation, 138 

Field Foundation, 201 

Ford, John Wesley, 262 

Forman, James, 262 

Forrest, Hamilton, 248 

Freedom Movement. See Albany; 
Birmingham; Chicago; March on 
Washington; Memphis; Mont- 
gomerv; Operation Breadbasket; 
Poor People's Campaign; Prayer 
Pilgrimage; Selma; Southern 
Christian Leadership Conference 

Freedom Rides, 198-202 

French, E. N., 116 

Friends Service Committee, 173 

Fry, Franklin C, 350 

Fuller, Peter, 323-24 

357; MLK Jr. and, 58, 88, 121, 

163, 171, 354-55 
Candhi Peace Foundation, 173 
Cardner, Edward, 222 
Gayle, W. A., 119, 128, 129, 130, 

140, 142, 146 
Goldwater, Barrv, 246 
Goodman, Andrew, 16, 247 
Graetz, Robert, 138, 143, 147 
"grandfather clause," 23 
Granger, Lester B., 154, 161 
Grant, Irene, 127 
Graves, Earl, 338-339 
Gray, Fred D., 116, 136, 162, 164, 

Greeley, Dana, 293 
Green, Sherman L., 134 
Gurley, Mary, 330 

Hall, Peter, 136, 186 

Hallinan, Paul John, 3 

Hanes, Arthur, 217 

I lankerson, Lester, 202 

Harald, Crown Prince of Norway, 

Hartsfield, William, 18 
Hegel, G. W. F., MLK Jr. on, 57 
Heidegger, Martin, MLK Jr. on, 92 
Height, Dorothy, 235 
Heschel, Abraham, 294, 350 
Hester, William H., 59 
Hill, Jesse, 189 
I lorne, Lena, 237 

Hughes, Langston, quoted, 266-67 
Human Relations Council, 138 
I Iumphrev, Hubert, 246 
Hunter, Lillie, 5, 124, 201 
Hurley, Ruby, 137 
I lutchinson, Dorothv, 308-9 

Gandhi, Indira, 174 lakovos, Archbishop, 263 

Gandhi, Mahatma, 172-77 passim, Ickes, Mrs. Harold, 262 




In Friendship (organization), 138 
Interdenominational Ministerial Al- 
liance, 113 
Interracial Council of Atlanta, 82 

Jack, Homer, 293 
Jackson, Jesse, 289, 290, 318 
Jackson, Jimmy Lee, 254—55 
Jackson, Mahalia, 238, 282, 283, 

284-85, 286, 332, 351 
Jahn, Gunnar, 9, 12 
Jaspers, Karl, MLK on, 92 
Jenkins, Herbert, 324 
Jessie Smith Noves Foundation, 47- 

48, 247 
jet magazine, 15, 84, 160 
Johns, Vernon, 95-96, 99 
Johnson, Hall, 249 
Johnson, Lyndon, 225, 246, 259, 

263-64,271, 314, 322, 323 
Johnson, Mordecai, 58, 84, 176 
Johnson, Robert, 84 
Jones, Ann, 236 
Jones, Clarence, 236 
Jones, Solomon, 317 

Katzenbach, Nicholas, 262 

Kelly, Asa, 203 

Kelsey, George, 84, 86 

Kennedy, Ethel, 323 

Kennedy, Jacqueline, 245, 323 

Kennedy, John F., 198, 243-45, 
357, 359; and Birmingham, 231, 
233; and civil rights legislation, 
219,235, 246; and jailing of Ml K 
Jr., 195-97, 224-28; and march 
on Washington, 238, 240-41 

Kennedy. Robert, 196, 200, 206, 
219, 225-26, 322, 323, 324, 338, 

Kilgore, Thomas, 168, 169, 350 

Killens, John, 243 

King, Alberta Williams (Mamma 
King), 4, 11, 14, 15, 82, 98, 183, 
311, 319, 322; and MLK Jr., 84, 
110-11, 250, 316-17; personality, 

65, 79-80 

King, Alfred Daniel (A. D.), 5, 66, 
73, 78, 131, 183, 193, 194, 196, 
224, 232, 250, 316-17, 332; in 
civil rights movement, 190, 201, 
222, 267 

King, Alveda, 66, 69 

King, Bernice Albertine (Bunny), 
19, 107, 220, 251, 282, 286, 321, 

King, C. B., 205 

King, Carol, 205 

King, Christine (Mrs. Isaac Farris), 

66, 72, 78, 131, 132, 183, 187, 
193, 197, 250, 267, 326; and Co- 
retta King, 69, 73, 167,319 

King, Coretta Scott: addresses by, 
187-88, 208, 256, 265, 285, 286, 
295, 344-47; and desegregation, 
251-53; education, 31-33, 34, 35- 
45, 47, 49, 89; family background, 
20ff; Freedom Concerts, 247-49, 
261; meeting with MLK Jr., 50fF; 
musical career, 44-45, 47, 50, 70, 
89-90, 101, 144-46, 208, 209, 
247-49; and peace movement, 
208-9, 292-93, 296, 309; role of, 
13-14, 70, 91-92, 97, 101-2, 103, 
114, 132-33, 135, 151-52, 311- 
12, 329; see also King, Martin 
Luther. Jr. 

King, Dexter, 19, 204-5, 211, 226. 
224, 244, 250-51, 282; and MLK 
Jr., 84, 275, 306-7, 319, 321, 328; 
on why people say "nigger," 212 

King, James Albert, 75-78 




King, Lonnie, 188, 190, 192 

King, Marian, 205 

King, Martin Luther, Jr.: and Al- 
bany Movement, 203-7, 222; 
awards, 2ff, 88, 158, 348; and 
Birmingham bombing, 242-3; 
birth, 77; and Black Power, 278; 
character as leader, 100, 102-3, 
121, 130, 154, 158, 163-64. 179- 
80, 200, 273; childhood, 79-83, 
84; courtship, 54ff; death, 317- 
21; decision to enter ministry, 
85-87; decision to work in South, 
94-95; and discrimination, 189— 
90; education, 83-84, 88, 90, 92, 
94, 150; family background, 75- 
83; forebodings of death, 244, 
245, 255, 303^1; and Freedom 
Rides, 198ff; funeral, 325-27, 
329-33, 348-59; home life, 214, 
215-16; house bombed, 127ff; 
indicted, 133, 185; injunctions 
against, 143, 206, 222, 260, 262, 
264, 315; jailed, 124-26, 190-96, 
204-5, 224-28, 255-56, 358; and 
Malcolm X, 256-57; marriage, 
71-74, 91; and material posses- 
sions, 160-61, 178-80; and Mem- 
phis demonstration, 308—17; and 
James Meredith, 277; and Mont- 
gomery bus boycott, 111-48; and 
music, 9-10, 62, 250; and non- 
violence, 129-30, 133, 152-53, 
163, 174-75, 178-79, 232, 243, 
272-73, 277-78, 281, 355, 356; 
and Northern racism, 270-71; 
ordination, 87; pastoral career, 
lOOff, 179-83; philosophical 
views, 57-58, 92; and politics, 
196, 197, 246; and Poor People's 
Campaign, 297ff; and Prayer Pil- 

grimage, 152, 159-60; religious 
experience, 124, 158, 170-71, 
311; sermons and addresses by, 
6ff, 16-17, 59, 86-87, 103-5, 
139-40, 141-42, 159-60, 172, 
182-83, 223, 236, 238-40, 268, 
278, 292, 305-6, 314, 315-16, 
341-43, 348-49; and student sit- 
ins, 188-89, 190, 354; tributes to, 
11-12, 13, 16-19, 351, 352-59; 
tried and acquitted, 187; tried 
and convicted, 136, 164, 204, 
341; and Vietnam war, 291-96, 
356; visit to Africa, 154-57; visits 
to Europe, Iff, 158, 247; visit to 
India, 172-78; visits to Jamaica, 
302-3; writings, 136, 160, 166, 
228, 235-36, 303; see also South- 
ern Christian Leadership Con- 

King, Martin Luther, Sr. (Daddy 
King), 4, 6, 10, 23, 63, 65, 85, 
98, 131, 300-301; business sense, 
76, 79; and civil rights move- 
ment, 82-83, 189, 222, 244, 
267, 289, 302, 311; education, 77; 
family background, 76-77; and 
Coretta King, 67-69, 133, 191- 
96; and MLK Jr., 84-88 passim, 
132, 134-36, 161, 164, 182, 186, 
294, 322; quoted, 10-11, 13, 14, 

King, Martin Luther III, 5, 161, 
183, 191-92, 197, 205, 244, 245, 
250-51, 266, 321; and desegrega- 
tion, 251-52; and freedom move- 
ment, 257, 279; and MLK Jr., 
84, 211-12, 261-62, 274-75, 306- 
7, 328, 333-34 

King, Naomi, 66, 232 

King, Slater, 205 



King, Tom, 218,219 

King, Yolanda Denise (Yoki), 5, 
106-7, 114, 115, 122, 133, 135, 
244, 250, 266; and bombing of 
house, 127, 131, 132; and Chicago 
Movement, 279, 286, 287-88; 
and death of MLK Jr., 321; and 
discrimination, 213-15, 251; and 
jailing of MLK Jr., 191-92, 197, 
205; and MLK Jr., 210-12, 274, 
318, 328 

Ku Klux Klan, 103, 109-10, 118, 
143, 193 

Lafayette, Bernard, 202 

Lawson, James, 188, 201, 277, 308, 

Lee, Bernard, 5, 9, 188, 201, 203, 
229, 250, 280, 283, 284, 310, 31 1, 

Lee, Hampton D., 38, 132 

Lee, Juanita, 254 

Legal Defense Fund, NAACP, 109, 

Lenud, Philip, 57, 67, 90, 93 

Levison, Stanley, 138, 144, 168, 185, 
186, 334, 338 

Lewis, John, 235, 259 

Lewis, Refus A., 116 

Li, Mew Soong, 253 

Lincoln High School, Marion, Ala- 
bama, 35-37, 39, 72, 137, 145, 

Lingo, Al, 260 

Lingo, Allen, 253 

Liuzzo, Viola, 269 

Lockhart, Dorothy, 275 

Loe, Eugene, 164, 341 

Loeb, Henry, 307, 310, 315 

I ogan, Marian, 9 

Love, Law and Liberation Move- 
ment, 189 

Lowery, Joseph E., 150-51, 351 
Lucas, Frances, 338 
Lucas, James, 338 
Luther, Martin, 283, 357 

McCall, Walter, 96-97 
McCarthy, Abigail Quigley, 323 
McCarthy, Eugene, 283 
McDonald, Dora, 5, 201, 280, 303, 

McEvoy, Don, 19 
McKissick, Flovd, 277 
McMurry, Martin, 22, 23, 30, 38 
McMurry, Ruth, 29 
McMurry, Willie, 29 
McNair, Christopher, 243 
McNair, Denise, 243 
McNeill, Joseph, 188 

Maddox, Lester, 301-2 
Maguire, John, 201 
Malcolm X, 256-58 
Manley, Dr. Albert, 339 
Manlev, Norman Washington, 154 
Mann, Horace, 43-44 
March on Washington, 202, 235-42 
Marshall, Burke, 206, 231, 338 
Marxism, MLK Jr. and, 57 
Maxwell, O. Clay, 166-67 
Maynard, Dr. Aubre D., 169 
Mavs, Benjamin E., 19, 51, 52, 84. 

85-86, 134, 158, 185, 331, 332, 

351; quoted, 352-59 
Memphis demonstration, 307ft, 329 
Men of Montgomery, 148 
Meredith, James, 277, 278 
Miller, Nina, 5 
Milton, 1 . I).. L34 
Ming, Robert, 186 
Ministerial Alliance of Albany, 203 
Mitchell, Judge, 193, 196 
Montgomery Improvement Associa- 

■ I II ■ II I I ■ 



tion (MIA), 120, 136, 138, 143. 

144, 184; Ralph Abernathy and, 

116; Freedom Riders and, 199; 

MLKJr. and, 122, 154, 162, 163. 

185; SCLC and, 203 
Morehouse College, 19, 85, 331- 

32, 352; and MLK Jr., 53, 57, 79, 

81, 83, 84, 87, 88, 124, 158, 301, 

350, 352, 358 
Moreland, Mr. and Mrs., 138 
Morgan, Juliette, 138 
Moss, Otis, 190 
Mozeley.J.O. B., 351 

Nash, Dianne (Mrs. James Bevel), 
188, 202, 205 

National Association for the Ad- 
vancement of Colored People 
(NAACP), 3, 43, 82, 114, 137, 
203, 234; MLK Jr. and, 109, 110- 
11, 158, 294 

National Council of Negro Women, 

National Youth Administration, 138 

Negro Voters League, 203 

Nehru, Jawaharlal, 173, 174-76, 

Neuendorfer, Ruth, 137 

New England Conservatorv of 
Music, 47,49, 51 

Niebuhr, Reinhold, 57 

Nietzsche, Friedrich, MLK Jr. on, 

Nixon, E. D., 112-13, 116, 133, 142. 

Nixon, Richard, 155,323 

Nkrumah, Kwame, 154, 156-57 

Nobel Committee, 5, 9, 12 

Norman, Mother, 184 

Offcnburger, Tom, 326 

Ol.iv V, King of Norway, 11, 12 

Operation Breadbasket, 289-90, 

Orange, James, 202, 218, 285 

Page, Linda, 338 

Parks, Rosa, 107, 112, 113, 114, 

116, 117, 147,267,268,351 
Patterson, John, 199 
Paul VI, Pope, 247, 295 
Pettus.W. D., 114 
Pike, James A., 139 
Plotkin, Sally, 43 
poll tax, 24 
Ponder, Annel, 202 
Poor People's Campaign, 297-300, 

303-4, 305, 306, 307, 312, 313, 

Porter. John, 190, 222 
Powell, Adam Clayton, 154 
Powell, Marv, 51-52, 53, 56, 60, 

63, 64-66' 
Prasad, Rajendra, 176 
Prayer Pilgrimage of Freedom, 152, 

Pritchett, Laurie, 204, 205 

Raby, Albert, 275, 284 
Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli, 176 
Rainey, Lawrence A., 247 
Randolph, A. Philip, 112, 154, 159, 

161, 235, 241 
Rauschenbusch, Walter, MLK Jr. 

and, 57 
Ray, Sandy F., 172 
Reagan, Cordell, 203 
Reddick, Lawrence D., 173 

Reeb, Jamta, 263 
Reuther, Walter, 


Revnolds./Libbv Holman, 173 
Robeson, Paul, 45 
Robinson, Cleveland, 235 

Robinson, Jackie, 294 




Robinson, Jo Ann, 100 

Rockefeller, Nelson, 16, 234 

Rogers, T. Y., 202 

Roldan, Amadeo, 89 

Roman Catholic Church, MLK |r. 

and, 3, 158 
Roosevelt, Franklin D., 138 
Rothchild, Jacob, 19 
Rubinstein, Artur, 62 
Rustin, Bayard, 5, 137-38, 144, 168, 

Rutherford, Bill, 307, 324 

Salinger, Pierre, 225, 227 
Sampson, Al, 280, 285 
Sanitation Workers Union (Mem- 
phis), 307ff 
Sartre, Jean-Paul, MLK Jr. on, 92 
Savage, Edith, 338 
Sayre, Francis, 314 
Schomer, Howard, 262 
Schwerner, Michael, 16, 247 
Scott, Bernice McMurrv, 20, 25, 

28, 32, 34, 37, 65, 67, 93, 254, 

Scott, C. A., 134 
Scott, Cora, 21, 22 
Scott.EdvtheCMrs. Arthur Baglev), 

25, 28,' 33, 35, 36, 39-42, 64, 326; 

and Coretta King, 38, 67, 70, 71, 

72, 73, 322, 337-38 
Scott, Fannie Burroughs, 22, 29 
Scott, Jeff, 21, 22, 23, 29, 30 
Scott, Obadiah. 20, 23, 25, 26-28, 

35, 38-39, 71-72, 73, 132, 254, 

255, 322, 333 
Scott, Obadiah Leonard 'Obie), 

25, 28, 36, 255, 322 
V, Zimmie, 37 
Scripto Company, 18, 19 

Sellers, Clyde, 128, 129, 130, 142, 
165, 204 

Selma, march from, 202, 253-69 

Sherrod, Charles, 203 

Shores, Arthur, 136, 186 

Shuttlesworth, Fred Lee, 151, 153, 

Siegethaler, John, 199 

Simone, Nina, 266 

Smadback, Justine, 247, 328 

Smadback, Louis, 247 

Smiley, C. T., 129 

Smiley, Glenn, 138, 147 

Smith, Mr. and Mrs. (of Mont- 
gomery), 138 

Smith, Lillian, 192-93 

Smith, Nelson, 222 

Smith, Ruby Doris, 190 

Smitherman, Joe T., 259 

Southern Bedspring Mattress Com- 
pany, 85 

Southern Christian Leadership Con- 
ference (SCLC), 3, 81, 138, 181, 
and Albany Movement, 207; and 
Birmingham Movement, 217-33; 
and Chicago Movement, 276ff; 
formation of, 150-53; and Free- 
dom Rides, 198, 203; MLK Jr. 
and, 308, 312-14; and march on 
Washington, 235-36; and Missis- 
sippi march, 277-79; anil Poor 
People's Campaign, 298; and 
Scripto Company, 18; and segre- 
gation in North, 270-71; and 
s\CC, 188-89; staffing of, 201-2, 
273; and Vietnam war, 291; and 
voting rights, 161-62, 202, 253- 
.56, 258-69, 300 

Southern Conterence on Trans- 



portation and Nonviolent Integra- 
tion, 152 

Spelman College, 53, 66, 78, 326, 

Spock, Benjamin, 293-94 

Spring Mobilization for Peace, 295 

Steele, C. K., 150, 151, 153 

Stokes, Carl, 300 

Student Nonviolent Coordinating 
Committee (SNCC), 3, 188-89, 
198, 203, 235, 277 

Tannevhill, Anne, 48 
Taylor, Gardner C, 350 
Thetford, William R, 136 

Thomas, Cecil, 37, 39 

Thomas, Frances, 37, 39, 145, 249 

Thomas, Mrs. Jimmie, 330 

"Thomas, John," 26-28 

Thomas, Lillie see Hunter, Lillie 

Thomas, Norman, 293 

Thoreau, H. D., MLK Jr. and, 58, 

Thurman, Howard, 84 
Thurston, John and Ruth, 285 
Tilley, John, 153 
Time magazine, 153-54 
Treichler, Jessie, 43, 46, 47, 338 
Truman, Harry S., 109 
Tubbs, Mr. and Mrs. Robert E., 

Turner, Esther, 243, 339 

United Nations, 5-6, 186 

U.S. Supreme Court, 24, 109, 119, 

141, 142, 146 
Unity Council for Civil Rights, 

Urban League (National), 48, 49, 

161, 235 

Vivian, C. T., 201, 202 

Wachtel, Harry, 5, 338 
Wachtel, Lucy, 5 
Wadley, Ray, 1 10 
Wagner, Robert, 16 
Walden.A.T., 134, 189 
Walker, Ann, 201,205,237 
Walker, Wvatt Tee, 5, 9, 201, 218, 

222, 224, 227, 232, 237, 250, 

Wallace, George, 217, 230, 253, 259, 

War Resisters' League, 137 
Ward, Rachael, 220 
Washington, Booker T., 305; 

quoted, 118 
Watts district, rioting in, 271 
"We Shall Overcome," origin of, 

Webb, Viola, 125 
West, Mrs. A. W., 120 
Western Christian Leadership Con- 
ference, 219 
White Citizen Councils, 109, 110, 

111, 114, 116, 118, 122, 144 
Whitted, Leola, 187-88 
Wilkes, W. R., 351 
Wilkins, Aminda Badeau, 144, 240, 

Wilkins, Rov, 137, 154, 161, 235, 

238, 294 
Williams, A. Walter, 300, 311 
Williams, Mrs. A. Walter, 311-12 
Williams, Adam Daniel, 78 
Williams, Alberta Christine see 

King, Alberta 
Williams, Aubrey, 138 
Williams, Camilla, 238 
Williams, Hosea, 202, 259, 265 



Williams, Jennie, 78, 80 
Williams, Mary Lucy, 127 
Williams, Olive J., 36-37, 338 
Williams, Robert (Bob), 124, 133, 

145, 167, 248, 332, 338 
Williams, Samuel, 189 
Wilson, A. W., 113 
Wilson, James, 342 
Wilson, Woodrow, 293, 357 
Women Mobilized for Change, 286 
Women's International League for 

Peace and Freedom, 208 
Women's Political Council (of 

Montgomery), 112 
Women's Strike for Peace, 208 

Wood, Jim, 201 
Wormley, Bertha, 48-49, 339 
Wright, John J., 351 
Wright, Marian, 188, 190 

Yates, C. R., 134 

Young, Andrew, 229, 255-56, 265, 
324, 325; and Chicago Move- 
ment, 280, 283, 284; and MLK 
Jr., 5, 9, 250, 318; and SCLC, 

Young, Jean, 205, 339 

Young, Whitney, 235, 294 

Zwerg, James, 199